The University of Minnesota Aquatic Center opened on June 1, 1990. To celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, people old and young with connections to the Center gathered on Memorial Day weekend. A picnic at Como Park, a day at the Water Park of America, a party at Sally’s, and a pool party at the Aquatic Center gave them several chances to have a good time and rehash old memories.
But there is much more to this 20th anniversary than one weekend of celebration. Aquatic Center program director Duane Proell would know better than most—he has been at the U of M since 1989, before the Aquatic Center was built.
“(The Aquatic Center has) been a 20-year development, that’s for sure,” he said. “Right now I tell people we’re a pretty well-oiled machine. It wasn’t that way all the time. All programs, all buildings, all those things take time.”
In the time since the Center’s construction started on the site that used to hold the U’s Memorial Stadium, the people involved in the Center have worked out problems and built on successes. Now, even as it enters its 20th season, the Aquatic Center is still considered one of the top swimming facilities in the country. It has hosted eight NCAA Championships, 10 Big Ten Championships, three U.S. National Championships, three U.S. Opens and one U.S. Diving Championship. NCAA and Big Ten Championships, as well as championships in short course and diving, are on the schedule in the next few years.
One of the major reasons that the Aquatic Center can still host as many events as it does is the continuous maintenance work that keeps it in pristine condition. Aquatic centers are generally difficult to maintain due to the water and chemicals that can wear them down. The amount of use the Center gets—it could be in use from 5:45 am to 10:00 p.m. on any given day—increases the difficulty. Add in events in which a few thousand people pack the Center, and maintenance is an even tougher task. But a team effort from the Aquatic Center staff, the varsity swim programs, facility management, and recreational sports has been known for keeping the Center in good shape.
“The big comment that we get all the time when we’re bidding for meets is that, ‘Well, the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center looks the same it did the day it opened, so this is a place we want to go,’” Proell said.
Aside from maintenance, another aspect of the Aquatic Center’s continued success is its design. There are over 1,300 permanent seats, as well as room for 1,200 bleachers. The video display and sound systems are state-of-the-art. The capacity and technology allow it to keep up with or stay ahead of national standards. The Center’s eight-lane, eight-foot deep, 50-meter pool and separate diving well are fit for everyday practice and community programs as well as national competitions. The Aquatic Center is meant for the state of Minnesota, not just the university. In fact, the first event it hosted—on opening day—was a grade-level swim meet for kids. This attitude of inclusion is reflected in the way the Center is run.
“The management model here is everyone’s involved, everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s here for aquatics and all of our programs have to succeed,” said Proell.
The way that it has stood the test of time so far has already been impressive, but the U of M hopes the Aquatic Center will continue serving people long past its 20th anniversary.
“The philosophy of the university has been to maintain it for many, many generations to come,” Proell said. “What they didn’t want to do was build an aquatic facility and (only) the current generation gets to use it, and the next generations that come behind them don’t get to use as good a facility as the ones prior to.”
Keeping the facility in its current condition into the future will continue to take a team effort. As much as upkeep and design contribute to the longevity of the Aquatic Center, Proell says that the most important ingredient is the people in the swimming community.
“Yeah, the 20th anniversary of the Aquatic Center, the building itself, is important,” he said. “You have to remember that you can’t do what you do without a facility. But in the end, that facility’s still bricks and mortar, and roofs and water. What made it all have a heartbeat and what made it all important was all those people that came through here.”
Story written by Athletic Communications Student Assistant Justine Buerkle