Meramec walks the plank

John Drury, features writer

Eighteen months and $11 million later, the Walker Natatorium stands completed on the far west end of the KHS campus. The boys’ swim and dive team meets Monday through Saturday with an additional morning practice on Wednesdays in preparation for the upcoming state championship. The girls’ team comes down to check out the facility before their season starts in November and the new water polo goals sit in the storage closet awaiting the spring. The natatorium comes as a long awaited, much needed addition to the growing athletic facilities at KHS.

Since 1963, all of KHS’s aquatic teams have used the pool at Meramec Community College, a six-lane, overheated, poorly-ventilated, water-filled hole in the ground. Swim meets and water polo games drew little to no attention, mainly because students had to drive to Meramec to watch the games, and those who did left after being suffocated by the chlorine-ridden atmosphere in the pool area itself.

But the announcement of the Walker Natatorium in April 2014 meant all three of the programs finally had a facility fit to the talent of the athletes, and that their time swimming at Meramec was done. The boys’ team went 10-0 in dual meets last season, sending 14 race entries to the state meet and taking 17th. The girls’ team has gone the past two seasons undefeated and took sixth place at state in 2015. The water polo team has eight first-team all-state athletes since 2001 and among the most final four appearances of any public high school in the state. Despite all their successes, all three programs practiced in arguably the worst pool in St. Louis. Aside from Webster Groves, Kirkwood was one of the only public high school’s without a pool on campus in the the St. Louis County area until the Walker Natatorium was built.

The natatorium not only serves as a reward for the successes of the swim and dive program but also allows for expansion of the teams. Last year the girls’ team had to make cuts because Meramec did not offer enough space with its six lanes, already packed with club swimmers. The addition of two new lanes and a diving area separate from the lap lanes adds space to expand both teams and offer new opportunities for new athletes wanting to join the team but have not swam before.

The only complaints against the pool came from students unaware that the $11 million dollar Walker Natatorium was given to KHS as private donation, intended specifically to build a new aquatic center on campus. The money was not available to give students laptops or to build more football or soccer fields like some students thought. The other major complaint was about the delays that came during the construction of the building, however, the quality of the natatorium will stand for years to come, and the two-month delay with its construction will become irrelevant.

Despite the delays and additional money still being donated and raised for maintenance, the quality of the pool is unparalleled. Forty meters long with a movable bulkhead, brand new blocks, lane-lines and flags, the natatorium also features a new video scoreboard and the words “Kirkwood Pioneers” painted across from the seating section on the eastern side. No other high school aquatic center in St. Louis comes close, not even Pattonville High School’s $7 million pool.