De Mandel Aquatics Center construction delays cause frustration

The opening of the De Mandel Aquatics Center has continued to be delayed. Occidental College, Los Angeles. Jan. 28, 2020. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

The opening of the new De Mandel Aquatics Center continues to be pushed back due to delays in LA City inspections and unforeseen weather, according to Director of Communications and Community Relations Jim Tranquada. Members of the Occidental swim and dive team returned to campus this semester expecting to practice and host meets at the De Mandel Aquatics Center, on which construction began September 2017, but are instead using Taylor Pool.

According to Director of Facilities Tom Polansky, additional construction to adjacent areas — including a driveway entrance and a retaining wall between the aquatics center and the sidewalk — must be completed and approved by the city in tandem with construction on the pool. These city requirements mandate the college to undertake this additional construction as a way to incrementally update infrastructure in Los Angeles.

“I think to anybody on the swim team or the water polo team, they think ‘What the — that doesn’t have anything to do with the pool,’ but it is directly linked because of the process that the city has put in place,” Tranquada said.

Tranquda said another reason the pool did not receive approval from the city was because of handmade tiles inscribed with donor names installed at the starting blocks of the pool. According to Greg Ochoa, senior project manager of Facilities, the tiles were deemed by city inspectors to not meet specific non-slip standards. Ochoa said new tiles are currently being installed on the pool deck and will likely be completed by Thursday, Feb. 6.

According to Tranquada, there were 17 different individual permits needed to officially complete construction and it is challenging to receive city approval in a timely manner due to the volume of ongoing projects in Los Angeles.

“We understand why the swimmers and water polo teams and divers are frustrated and feel as if they’re not getting the best information,” Tranquada said. “But this sort of moving target that we’ve been trying to hit and the lack of control over the inspections and the other official acts over which we have no control, that’s really the reason why there hasn’t been a definitive date.”

According to swimmer Aidan Seid (junior), the swim team has not been told a specific reason for the further delay.

“We just know it is going to be delayed longer and we likely won’t be in it this season,” Seid said. “[Taylor Pool] is not ideal for a college team of about 50 people. It’s really hard to run practices in a six-lane pool. We have had trouble hosting meets this year, and we had to cancel our meet this weekend because we can’t physically host a three-team meet right now.”

The women’s water polo team and other swim sports practice at Taylor Pool at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Jan. 28, 2020. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

According to swimmer Ian Zunt (senior), head swim and dive coach Haley Mitchell announced to the team that the pool would not be open in time for their Feb. 1 senior meet, a tri-meet against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Whittier College. Because Taylor Pool is too small to accommodate three teams, Occidental had to move the meet to Whittier College in Whittier, California — almost 45 minutes from Occidental’s campus.

Zunt said the irony of this most recent delay, after it was already filled with water, is not lost on the team.

“It’s frustrating because we get out of practice in this dinky six-lane pool that we all love but is not functional, and there’s this beautiful pool that’s filled up, everything looks perfect, and they’re like, ‘Sorry, regulations,’” Zunt said.

Tranquada said he shares many of the same frustrations.

“We wish it was otherwise and we understand why they’re frustrated,” Tranquada said. “[The athletes] have every right to be frustrated because they’re staring at this beautiful new facility and they can’t use it. What could be more frustrating?”

When Ana Bucy (senior) and Zunt were recruited to swim at Occidental College as high school seniors, they were told by the then-head coach Steve Webb they would have a pool by the time they were sophomores. That was not the first time that promise was made.

“The biggest frustration stems in that we were recruited under this idea five years ago, when we were seniors in high school, that we’ll have this new pool to ring in, and we’ll get to be the first swimmers in that pool — which is such a big moment in the history of Occidental’s swim and dive program,” Zunt said.

De Mandel Aquatics Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Promises of a new pool date back 40 years, according to Tranquada.

“I know one alum who was recruited to swim at Oxy in 1976 who was promised that there would be a new pool by the time he was a senior,” Tranquada said. “He tells the story and then he adds, ‘They’d left out one word. You will have a new pool when you are a senior citizen.’”

Diver Dion Holden (sophomore) is unable to practice diving in Taylor Pool due to its lack of diving boards and has to travel to the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena. He says scheduling practice time there is complicated and the facilities make it difficult to practice. Holden won SCIAC Men’s Diver of the Week November 2019.

“They can only move a few lane lines, so when I’m diving, there is a lane line right next to me. On a three-meter dive, it is so scary,” Holden said. “The delay of the new pool is directly affecting my practice.”

According to Holden, he has been paying for transportation to an off campus practice facility out of pocket while waiting for construction to be completed.

“Now I have a car, but I used to have to worry about if I had enough money to Uber to practice. I had to ask my parents for money,” Holden said. “The fact that I had to pay to go to practice was so ridiculous. It was especially annoying because I got recruited to colleges and my diving experience could have been a lot better.”