A view of the Spieker Aquatics Center pool and diving tower, amidst the pine trees.
UCLA's newest sports facility – a sparkling Olympic-length, diving-depth competition pool – opened Saturday, Sept. 26, on the Hill, boasting a sky-scraping dive tower, a movable bulkhead to adjust the lap lengths and high hopes of attracting major tournaments.
The Spieker Aquatics Center (pronounced "speaker"), which includes the Dirks Pool, will cater exclusively to the campus' athletic and club teams, making it the new home of the women's swimming and diving team, and men's and women's water polo. The overall facility takes its name from former UCLA athlete Tod Spieker and his wife, Catherine, who made the lead gift. Carolyn Dirks provided the lead gift for the facility's pool.
Even though the center is in its first week of operation, a couple of teams have already put the Dirks Pool to good use with a men's water polo meet against Irvine (with UCLA winning 10-4) and an inter-squad women's swim meet. Divers can take advantage of the low and high spring boards or the 3-meter, 5 meter, 7.5 meter and 10-meter diving platforms. The 52-meter by 25-yard pool ranges from 8 feet to 16 feet deep, and the adjustable bulkhead allows UCLA Athletics to meet competition-standard lengths in meters or yards. New locker rooms, a video scoreboard and evening event lighting are just a few of the center's features, said Ken Weiner, senior associate athletic director in UCLA Athletics.
A recent photo taken from one of the diving platforms while the pool was being filled.
The facility was built in 14 months on a site across the street from Sunset Canyon Recreation Center where a few of the Hill's old tennis courts once stood. Nearby basketball courts were relocated to the Saxon Suites to make way for new tennis courts, so that the Hill continues to boast facilities for a variety of sports, Weiner added.
Athletes are not the only ones cheering in the stands. Although the specially-designed pool isn't open to the recreational crowd, recreational swimmers are also excited about the new aquatic center.
"The aquatics center means we have a great new stadium for our athletic and club teams, but what this also does is give recreational water back to the campus by moving the team practices out of other pools and into Spieker," Weiner said.
The move could result in up to seven and a half extra hours daily in other pools for staff, faculty and student swimmers, according to UCLA Recreation. The Park Pool at Sunset Canyon Recreational Center used to be the only pool that could accommodate deep-water sports, like water polo practices and meets, and other teams spent up to five hours a day using the Student Activities Center pool.
Now UCLA Recreation is free to reclaim those hours, said Rich Mylin, associate director of event and facility operations in UCLA Recreation.
"We're still fine-tuning how much of that time will be programming or free-swim – we'll be listening to our members to find out what they want," Mylin said. "The one thing about the pool use that's a little different from our other facilities is that we have to think about the expense of lifeguards. The budget hangs over us a bit. But Spieker opens up a lot of recreation opportunities in other pools for staff, faculty and students."
A view of the Spieker Aquatics Center before the bulkhead was installed.
Steve Najera, manager of the Sunset Canyon center and UCLA Aquatics, said the recession has already forced him to get creative, such as by simultaneously hosting swim lessons in half the pool and lap swimming in the other half.
"Ideally, we'd like to have more open-recreation lap-swimming time, but the issue is the budget crisis," Najera said. "I'm in a tough position, because I have more pool time now, but I can't fill it without money. So swimmers will see a combination of us trying to be fiscally responsible while still offering as much open-rec as possible."
The schedule is in flux for now, but Najera has some ideas about what to do with the new pool time. At the Student Activities Center, UCLA Recreation gains the hours from 8-10 a.m. and 2-5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, which will probably be filled with exercise classes, swim lessons and other programs.
The Sunset Canyon Park Pool was already available for lap swimming from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., when water polo took over for a few hours before the pool opened for free-swim again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"We already offer more lap-swimming hours than any other institution or facility in L.A.," Najera said. "But the swimmers want more, so starting Oct. 1, we'll experiment with all lap-swim, all day, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. We'll have a lot of happy lap swimmers."