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File Photo. Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

North Gym 118 wasn’t always the meeting place it is today

Have you ever wondered if North Gym 118 has always been a conference room? It used to house an aquatics center.

Before the aquatics center was built eight years ago, Room 118 was a swimming pool. It was built in 1953 when North Gym (then the Men’s Gym) was constructed. The pool was technically 25 yards long (if you counted the gutters), had six narrow lanes and had both shallow and deep ends.

Two diving boards were at the deep end of the tank. There were two portholes for people to observe what went on under the water’s surface. The south side of the space that’s now glass was originally home to six sliding panels that opened onto a grass patio that’s now concrete. The spectator seating area is still there, hidden by a false wall across the room from the glass wall.

I spent many hours in that pool – in swim for fitness classes and recreation swim. In 1978, I saved a life during a swim class. When I worked for Recreation-Intramurals, I’d sneak in to swim after hours. I was depth-bombed by chunks of ceiling one night in the mid-1980s. Delta Gamma’s anchor was found dumped in the deep end on a Sunday morning back in the 1980s.

The old pool had issues. The chlorination system frequently malfunctioned as it aged. One time, the pool self-drained after the main drain pipe was chopped through by a backhoe. The lifeguard and I tried sandbagging the bottom drains to slow down the exodus of water. We failed miserably.

The problems with the chemistry eventually led to lawsuits and the pool being condemned by the county health department.

In October 2002, 12 women swimmers reported they had body rashes and hair loss to an assistant coach, who quickly reported it to athletic department administrators. The administrators claimed chlorine test results were always normal and the rashes were due to “stress” over the team’s coach leaving. But swimmers still suffered from rashes, hair loss, chemical burns and respiratory problems.

After the swimmers refused to enter the water on Nov. 13, 2002, it was discovered chlorine levels were three times normal. It later turned out chlorine levels were really eight times normal limits.

Lawsuits filed by the swimmers in early 2003 were later settled out of court.

Women’s swimming along with men’s soccer, cross country and indoor track were dropped in 2004 supposedly “to stabilize the financial future of Fresno State athletics.”

In 2006, I heard discussions were being held about the future of the old pool. The kinesiology department reportedly was thinking about moving all its aquatics classes off campus. Other people were talking about dusting off the idea of a full-fledged aquatics center.

After women’s swimming and diving were reinstated in 2008, the notion of an aquatics center picked up steam. The old pool couldn’t be used for competition anymore because it wasn’t really 25 yards long, and the deep end was too shallow for diving safely.

After some financial fits, construction started on the new pool complex in 2010, and it opened the following year. It has a 52-meter by 25-meter deep water main pool with a bulkhead, a smaller pool for some classes,and diving boards. The proposed diving tower hasn’t been built yet. The cover over the spectator seating took a few years to be finally installed.

Dan Waterhouse writes The Collegian’s Campus Column, which prints on Wednesdays. Waterhouse  is a lifelong Fresnan. He has written for the Fresno City College and Fresno State student newspapers over the years, including other local publications. Follow him on Twitter: @WaterhouseDan