When the heat exchanger unit that regulates the water in the Sam-O Swim Center pool malfunctioned earlier this month, the season was turned upside down for Baker High School swim team members and their coach, Paula Moe.
Rather than diving into the pool at 5:30 a.m. to begin practice, the 13 swimmers have had to change their practice time start to 5:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, after a 45-minute bus ride to La Grande.
Moe, who also serves as YMCA operations and aquatics director, said city workers spent several days trying to determine why the city-owned pool wouldn’t hold heat before the heat exchanger unit was identified as the problem.
The pool was closed Jan. 13, Moe said, and a Jan. 18 home swim meet was canceled.
The city expects the pool to remain closed until about March 9, said Michelle Owen, Baker City public works director.
The mechanical issue with the heat exchanger unit made it unfeasible to keep the pool open, with water temperatures dropping to a chilly 74 degrees.
“Nobody wants to swim in that,” Owen said.
The water is usually at 86 degrees except for during swim meets when the temperature is lowered to 80 degrees, she said.
The heat exchange unit in the large pool will be rebuilt for an estimated $13,800, plus an installation fee, Owen said. A new unit will be placed in the smaller training pool, for $7,900 plus installation.
The pool will be closed until after the swim team’s season ends. The state swimming championships begin Feb. 21, said Buell Gonzales, BHS athletic director.
Gonzales said he was happy Coach Moe and her team members were willing to put in the extra effort to finish out the season.
“I think we’re making the best out of a rough situation. I appreciate the kids putting in a little bit of extra work,” he said. “And I feel fortunate that Paula is really sticking this out. A lot of folks would have just said, ‘you know what — we’re just done.’ ”
For her part, Moe said she has been proud of her team and the students’ willingness to travel to La Grande and back to continue the three-night-per-week practices.
In order to work around bus schedules and the La Grande swim team’s schedule, the students leave Baker City at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and are in the La Grande pool by 5:30 p.m. The team members practice for an hour and a half and are home between 8:10 and 8:15 on those nights.
Moe said she worked with her friend, Teresa Roberts, pool superintendent for the City of La Grande to arrange the practice schedule.
“It’s going well,” Moe said. “The La Grande pool has been very nice to us. It’s great to have relationships like that.”
The City of La Grande is charging the Baker School District $15 per day for use of the pool, Gonzales said.
The trips are all business for the students, Moe said. Students bring snacks for the bus ride and eat when they return to their homes.
Moe said she expects the experience to bring her team members closer.
“More team bonding is happening,” she said. “From the time kids have to spend on the bus, they are becoming a much tighter group of friends.”
Once the bus returns to Baker City, Moe has another 30-minute trip to her house near Wolf Creek Reservoir.
“I just am super happy that we could work it out and keep the season going for these kids,” Moe said, despite the hardship of the travel time and late-night return home.
“I’m glad everyone is sticking with it,” she said. “And I’m glad everyone is patient and kind. We haven’t had any problems with it.”