After much consideration, Gainesville State College officials say they can no longer afford to keep the college’s pool open.
"This was not an easy decision, but one that was seriously considered in light of the $2.5 million budget reduction the college has already experienced in the last year and a half," said Martha T. Nesbitt, Gainesville State College president. "This reduction, along with additional budget cuts proposed recently solidified the decision to close the pool due to the very high costs involved in maintaining it."
According to administrators, it costs the school about $240,000 each year to operate the pool.
"It is regrettable that such a decision is necessary, because swimming has been an important part of our physical education program," Nesbitt said. "This decision also impacts members of the community who find our pool convenient."
In addition to students and staff, members of the Gainesville State College Foundation Laker Society also use the pool.
"I’m angry — very, very angry — about the pool closing. For me and a lot of other people in the south end of the county and elsewhere, the pool is a major part of our lives," said Claire Dunn, society member who lives in Flowery Branch. "We go and we swim. I go at least three, sometimes four times a week, but I know people who go to swim daily. I think the school is taking away a part of the quality of life for a lot of people."
Other members of the organization agreed.
"I am really upset about the pool closing. I would’ve liked to see it stay open," said Karen Legg of Oakwood. "I wish they would’ve pursued some other alternative. I’m a member of the Laker Society, and I probably won’t rejoin the society in the future because of a lack of pool facilities."
In addition to the pool, society members also have access to the school’s fitness center and library. The donations contributed by the society’s members help support student scholarships.
As a teacher who has had to deal with multiple furlough days, Dunn said she understands how tough economic times are; but she said that closing the pool isn’t the answer.
"There has to come a time when you take a step back to look at the bigger picture. This may be a small solution for right now, but in the long run, when the economy rebounds, is this something that you really want to lose," she said. "Gainesville State has grown and prospered in Hall County and personally I feel like the school needs to give back to the community. It is this community that is sending its children to the school, and so I think it’s time for the school to give back to the community that has helped it to prosper."
Although administrators said they understand the pool’s closure will affect more than just the immediate school community, they say that it is necessary to preserve the school’s primary focus.
"When such major budget cuts have occurred and are continuing, the college must concentrate on its core mission, which is to provide quality higher education to the students of Northeast Georgia. While lifetime fitness is an important part of that education, the current economic situation requires the college to focus its limited resources on other means of encouraging lifetime fitness, such as using the college’s fitness center, walking and biking trails, tennis courts and track," Nesbitt said.
"I sincerely hope that both the college community and our broader community of Hall County and Northeast Georgia will understand this decision. It is necessary if GSC is to continue providing quality and accessible higher education to this region of the state. We must do everything we can to protect the educational mission of the institution."