For swimmers at Tyler ISD, the day now starts outdoors with up to two dozen students competing in a massive, open-air Olympic size swimming pool.
It is a sharp contrast to the previous facility, where Tyler ISD Swim Coach Jason Petty was trying to manage up to 60 students at a time in an aging indoor six-lane pool with no room for spectators.
The new $3.9 million facility features a 25-yard by 50-meter outdoor pool as well as brand new locker rooms and bleachers for spectators adjacent to the Career and Technology Center on Earl Campbell Parkway.
Petty has seen program enrollment grow in anticipation of the new pool, which opened last weekend.
"We've already seen that dramatically (increase)," he said. "We've gone from 25 to 60 middle school students."
Another reason for the growth has been moving the middle school program within school hours to allow for students to be transported to and from the facility.
With the new pool comes an increased enthusiasm for competition among the students.
"We were never able to host meets because of the size of the old pool," he said. "Now we can for the first time in decades."
Tyler ISD will host its first swim meet on Saturday. The event begins at 10:45 a.m. and swim team alumni will be on hand to cheer on the students.
Hunter Holdham, 15, is in his second year on the swim team at Robert E. Lee High School and is excited about the program's growth because it will provide more of a challenge.
"Since there are new people coming in, I like the challenge of racing other people," Holdham said. "We had a coach from California come over the summer with his daughter, and she was really fast. I hope she ends up joining the team."
Violet Orchards, 14, is impressed with the open-air design of the pool.
"I'm looking forward to swimming in the winter," she said. "It'll be a new experience, and I think it will be really cool."
Petty said the pool can be heated to accommodate the colder weather, and the district is looking into options to cool the outdoor area for next summer.
For years, he has worked with other community swim programs and is looking forward to seeing the growth the new pool will bring.
"This is built by TISD, but we've already started a year-round swim club, and eventually we want to expand other programs," he said. "Last year we had 300 kids crammed into LeTourneau (University) for a meet."
While it's hard to put an estimate on how long it will take Tyler ISD to outgrow the pool, Petty said he has seen similar facilities last for decades and hopes this one will do the same.
"The easy answer is, I hope it lasts forever," he said.
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