W&L Natatorium Falls Short of 50m

By: Courtney Iverson, 1L
Contributing Writer

One of W&L’s more peculiar traditions is the swimming test that is administered to all incoming first years during their Orientation. This test came into existence due to the wishes of one of W&L’s most distinguished donors, Robert P. Doremus, who left his entire estate to the University. One of Doremus’ stipulations was that part of his gift be used to build a pool where students would have to take a swim test in order to enroll at the school. Legend has it that this stipulation was attached because Doremus had a close relative who tragically drowned. In 1915, the Doremus Memorial Gymnasium was completed and the annual swim test began to be administered in its pool.

Over 100 years later, and first years were still taking the swim test in the Doremus-Warner Athletic Center, albeit now in the more recently renovated Cy Twombly pool. However, all of this changed for the class of 2021. Their swim test moved across the Cadaver Bridge to W&L’s new Natatorium, which opened this spring. The new pool is three times the size of the Cy Twombly pool and holds 589,000 gallons of water (a statistic that worried Lexington’s water provider). The Natatorium is state-of-the-art and extremely impressive, but there is one concern that is truly puzzling: the main pool is only 39.3 meters long.

For those not on the swim team, this detail might seem trivial. However, the length does place the Natatorium in a sort of compromise between the standard 25-meter competition pool needed for Division III swim meets and the 50-meter Olympic-sized pool. Elizabeth LeRose, W&L’s Associate Director of Athletics, says that “50-meters was the plan all along” but several intervening factors made the Natatorium’s Olympic-sized dream impossible.

Firstly, there were problems with the building site and construction. The Natatorium is nestled on the side of a hill between the law school and the third-year apartments. This terrain limited the overall size of the facilities and subsequently limited the size of the pool itself. Then there were additional issues with excavating the pool area. “There was dirt where we wanted rock and rock where we wanted dirt,” says LeRose. Clearly, the excavation and construction process was more costly than the original calculations predicted, which leads to the second problem: donations. According to LeRose, “the donors didn’t give like we expected.” The University contributed $10 million to this $22.4 million project, but the majority of the cost was paid for by donors. Despite the shortage of funds, the project’s donors still envisioned a 50-meter Olympic-sized pool. “Of course the donors wanted a 50-meter pool,” says LeRose, “but once it was established that it wouldn’t be 50 meters, there were no objections.”

Rumors surrounding the Natatorium theorized that the shorter length was a way for the school to back out of hosting more costly events, such as Olympic trials and regional swim meets that required an Olympic-sized pool. For example, W&L is currently ineligible to host NCAA swimming championships. These rumors are baseless says LeRose, “we would love to host events like that, it would really help recruiting.”

Despite the setbacks caused by construction and funding, W&L’s Natatorium is still an impressive addition to campus. The pool deck contains both a competition and practice pool, an acoustically state-of-the-art roof, and a space set aside of a potential diving well (for if the University ever forms a diving team). The facilities also house: a wet classroom, swim team locker rooms, and locker rooms for the general public, a dry land gym with TRX equipment, as well as multiple community areas for relaxing and socializing. The general public can use the facilities during general swim hours, which can be found on the Natatorium’s webpage.

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