As if we didn’t already have enough drama surrounding the Columbus Aquatic Center, Jeff Pischko, head swimming coach for the Columbus Hurricanes, tells me he’s afraid the city is about to lose a huge swim meet.
Alert Readers will recall that the center recently played host to the NAIA national swimming and diving championships, which brought about 200 swimmers, along with their retinues of coaches, families and fans to town for several days. Peter Bowden of the Convention and Visitors Bureau told me last week that they estimate the meet brought about $650,000 to town, and left it here. Hotels, restaurants and the like benefited greatly from the event.
As nice as that was, Columbus and the aquatic center are on the verge of either hosting or losing a meet that promises to attract 600 swimmers to town. The 2016 Georgia 15 and above Long Course State Swimming meet would, one assumes, bring to town even more money than the NAIA did.
So what’s the problem?
It’s shocking, you might say.
The people with Georgia Swimming, which controls such meets, say they need an aquatic center that does not have to shut down when lightning is in the vicinity. Georgia Tech’s Olympic Aquatic Center, which lately has hosted the meet, is such a place.
Pishko managed to bid the meet away from Tech, but then the state folks heard weather caused the NAIA competition to be suspended for a short while.
We were told that if we were not able to overcome that, we would not get the bid.
Hurricane Coach Jeff Pishko
That won’t do, the state folks told Pishko.
“We were told that if we were not able to overcome that, we would not get the bid,” Pishko said.
The coach thought he’d gotten assurances from the Parks and Recreation Department that it would suspend the rule for the duration of the meet, but he later learned that wasn’t the case.
The problem is that the facility, unlike the Tech center, does not have an anti-electrocution system installed. It was part of the original design, I’m told, but was deleted to cut back on costs.
Such a device could be retrofitted, Pishko said, but it would cost about $50,000 and would have to be installed almost immediately because the process would take 10-12 weeks. And the meet is scheduled for July 21-24.
“At this point, we’re operating in a very short time frame, because Georgia Swimming, rightly so, has got to figure out, if we’re not able to do it, they’ve got to figure out a different location, and pretty quickly, too,” Pishko said.
Would losing the meet in such a fashion hurt the facility’s ability to lure future large meets?
“Without a doubt,” Pishko said.
In that case, yes, the city attorney is not going to put lives at risk by allowing someone to suspend a policy that was put in place to protect people.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she is familiar with the situation, and aware that the NAIA meet was indeed suspended because of severe weather, and has heard about the policy possibly costing the city the meet. But, she said, the NAIA people share the same policy with the aquatic center and agreed that the meet should be suspended.
“We did not do that over their objection. It was something they were in concurrence with,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson said installing a $50,000 anti-lightning system, especially immediately, isn’t likely to happen.
“At this point, we can’t change that without another capital investment, which I don’t know that we’re really in a position to make, with all the other things we have going on,” Tomlinson said.
And if the system can’t be installed, then the policy simply can’t be changed, Tomlinson said.
“In that case, yes, the city attorney is not going to put lives at risk by allowing someone to suspend a policy that was put in place to protect people,” Tomlinson said.
Considering the amount of economic impact such meets can have on the city, $50,000 seems like a paltry investment to make.
If you have $50,000.
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