Trumbull swim teams scramble to find solutions as Hillcrest pool remains closed

TRUMBULL — There are lots of benefits to swimming. It’s fun. It’s good exercise. And, when a child is on a swimming team, they can get to know some of their peers a little better.

But a lot of the enjoyment has been sucked out of swimming for Trumbull kids over the past several months, said Tom Racicot, president of Trumbull Pisces. Pisces is a program sponsored by the town and by the Trumbull Pisces Swimming Association Inc. that provides competitive swimming for children aged 6 to 18.

Until recently, the Pisces teams practiced at the Hillcrest Middle School pool. But, in July, the pool closed for repairs and has not reopened. As a result, the Pisces and the town’s other swim teams, including those at Trumbull High School and St. Joseph’s High School, have had to swim wherever they can find pool time.

Right now, they’re practicing at Foran High School in Milford, which is roughly a half-hour drive for many families.

“We’ve got elementary school kids, middle school kids coming home from practice at 9 at night,” Racicot said. “It’s hard to keep your kids excited about swimming when they’re doing that.”

Thus he and others in the Trumbull swim community were disappointed, though not surprised, by a recent announcement from the Trumbull Parks and Recreation Department that the pool won’t reopen any time soon.

“Unfortunately, the extent of damage and cost to repair does not allow for an efficient or cost-effective solution to the immediate problems with the Hillcrest Pool,” read a notice from the Parks and Recreation Department posted on the Trumull web site March 14. “Even a ‘bare-minimum’ approach will take at least one year to complete after finalized plans and contractor bidding is complete and will cost far in excess of what can arguably be considered reasonable given other significant structural issues that would be left unaddressed, any of which could worsen and again take the pool out of service.”

In the letter, Parks and Recreation officials said they understood the burden this placed on the Pisces, the high school swim teams and other groups and that they, along with the Aquatics Facilities Building Committee, would “find feasible ways to ease the short-term burden while the committee develops a proposal for the long-term aquatics needs of the entire community.”

The notice didn’t come as shock to Racicot or others in the swim community. The pool, which is more than 50 years old, has been the subject of conversation for some time, as has a possible plan to build an aquatics center elsewhere in town.

Still, getting confirmation that Hillcrest’s pool will continue to be out of commission “was a big hit in the gut,” said Bill Strickland, the head coach for Pisces, the Trumbull High boys and girls swim teams and the St. Joseph’s boy’s swim team.

He said all the teams he coaches have had to travel to find a place to practice. The Trumbull High School teams, for example, have had to use both the Westport Weston Family YMCA and the Orange town pool. And pool time even at these fairly far-flung places can be hard to come by.

“It’s been a pretty big burden on swimmers and their parents,” Strickland said. “We haven’t had a consistent schedule. We’re lucky that (Pisces) can swim at Foran right now because there’s no other teams using it.”

However, he said, that’s likely to change in the fall, and he doesn’t know what happens after that.

Racicot has three children who all swim — two for the high school and one for Pisces — so he knows first-hand the pressure this is putting on families.

“From my house to Foran is about half an hour, and we practice five nights a week,” he said. “It’s a strain. We’ve got a lot families doing carpooling and trying to come up with ways to ease the burden.”

Like Strickland, he’s not sure what the future holds.

“That’s the frustrating part,” Racicot said. “We’ve been working hard to find a long term home for the Pisces outside of Trumbull. The problem is there is not a lot of availability.”