UMass pool closure to have ripple effect on Amherst swim programs

  • The Ruth J. Totman Physical Education Building on the University of Massachusetts campus. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 10/9/2019 11:04:03 AM

AMHERST — Amherst’s Leisure Services and Supplemental Education, which sponsors youth swimming lessons, and the Amherst Tritons swimming team are among organizations that have depended on a pool at the University of Massachusetts.

But that pool, inside the Ruth J. Totman Physical Education Building, is no longer available after the nearly 50-year-old facility closed at the end of August due to what university officials described as a combination of its age, condition and maintenance costs.

“We were very fortunate to be able to use Totman over the years for winter swim lessons and very sorry to hear it was recently closed,” said LSSE Director Barbara Bilz.

While closing the pool also takes away one of three pools on the campus, with the two remaining at the Boyden Gymnasium and the Curry Hicks Cage, UMass Campus Recreation department officials have made sure that there is appropriate availability for both athletics and recreation, said UMass spokeswoman Shiera Goff.

The university’s decision to close the pool is likely to put more pressure on the indoor pools remaining in Amherst, notably the one located at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

Bilz said she is already in discussions with regional school officials about how to make sure youth swimming instruction can continue in the winter.

“We are currently working with the schools to relocate our winter swim lesson program to the middle school,” Bilz said.

She said the challenge for the schools is to accommodate the various groups who are looking for pool time, including her department, the high school swim teams, which will have practices and meets during the winter, and possibly the Tritons.

“Basically there is limited availability during non-school time hours,” Bilz said.

The issue is not a concern this fall for swimming lessons for children ages 6 months to 14 years old taking place, as demand is lighter in the fall and spring. Those lessons, for a variety of abilities, are held from Oct. 22 to Nov. 14, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings between 5 and 6:30 p.m.

LSSE has already faced challenges in the past with running its aquatics program when the outdoor swimming pools are not in use. Those have included negotiating payments with the school district for use of the middle school pool for lessons, community open swims and senior citizens swims and children’s birthday parties.

After the 2011 season, the town’s aquatics program moved from the middle school pool to the UMass campus and a formal agreement was drawn up, Bilz said. In November 2017, the town and regional schools came to an agreement that allowed town-sponsored lap and open swims, as well as swimming lessons, to be offered to the public at the school’s pool during the fall and the spring, but not the winter. That agreement included a $6,000 payment for 12 hours per week.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Bilz is seeking additional pool space and adjusting programming to meet the needs of the aquatics program.

For the Amherst Tritons began in the mid-1960s using the outdoor War Memorial Pool during the summer. Since the 1970s, the group has used most of the indoor pools in town, including the middle school, those at UMass and the ones at Amherst College and Hampshire College.

At this week’s Town Council meeting, At-Large Town Councilor Alisa Brewer said she worries about the town losing access to the UMass pool and how it will affect LSSE programming. At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg said the Totman pool closing was anticipated based on its condition.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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