Longtime city swim coach Steve Van Der Beken is excited to unveil more than $70,000 in renovation work he personally paid for at Raco Theodore Pool when it opened for the season in June, but he promises he won’t be offended if no one notices anything different at the popular swimming site.
Spoiler alert: The pool is nearly a foot shorter in length.
“When we were finished and the building inspector came by he goes, ‘OK ... what am I looking at? Hasn’t this always been here?’” said Van Der Beken. “It’s kind of a good thing to have said. Shows we got it right.”
Raco Theodore Pool, along with the Livingston and Hunt pools, opened to the public on June 24. Raco Theodore is located on Head Street, off Varney Street, on the city’s West Side.
The pool was built in the 1960s, 55 yards long. In 2007, the city did a major overhaul of the facility, adding a new bath house, new filter system and a stainless steel gutter system, while fixing many areas inside the pool in the process.
The site hosts three major swim meets a year. From the 1970s through the mid-’90s, the meets were run by the Manchester Swim Team, and Van Der Beken has operated the meets since he restarted the program in 2002.
According to Van Der Beken, USA Swimming – the national sanctioning body – and its local area organization, New England Swimming, recently flagged the length of Raco Theodore Pool as an issue. USA Swimming says a competition pool must be 50 meters in length. Raco Theodore’s 55 yards was 11.5 inches too long.
“There was never an issue with it being a 55-yard pool,” said Van Der Beken. “Somehow USA Swimming decided that any pool that was too long is an issue. Nobody’s really sure of the logic behind that. I’ve argued that if a pool is too long and some person makes a national cut time in it to go to Olympic trials, there’s no advantage to them. It’s actually a disadvantage.”
Van Der Beken began looking into the possibility of shortening the length of the pool. After vetting several pool contractors, Van Der Beken chose Natare Corp. of Indianapolis, which installed a fixed flow-through poly-graphite wall on a stainless steel structure attached to one end wall of the existing pool structure. The construction had to be completed using a “great deal of precision,” since the new length of the pool had to be accurate to within a quarter-inch.
The pool is now 50.02 meters long, with the extra .02 inches to allow for installation of touchpads for the automatic timing system at both ends of the pool.
The longtime coach started his run in Manchester in 1974, coaching the swim teams for all three public high schools for 12 years. Van Der Beken went on to coordinate and run the state swimming championships from 1982 to 2001.
Van Der Beken said the total cost of the renovations came in around $71,000. He put up the money for the project himself, at no cost to the city.
“I had a window of opportunity to get this done,” said Van Der Beken. “Mayor Joyce Craig, all her kids have swum with us over the years and she’s helped out with meets, so she understands. I’ve been coaching 45 years, and I’m nearing the end of my career, not the beginning. When you have the opportunity to do things you really need to take them.”
“Steve Van Der Beken is a force when it comes to competitive swimming,” said Craig. “His selfless approach has benefited thousands of youth in the greater Manchester area – including all three of my children. The most recent renovations to Raco Theodore Pool, which Steve initiated, managed and funded, means that Manchester now has the only 10-lane, 50-meter facility in all of New England. In addition, Raco is now certified by United States Swimming, which means our city has a great competitive swimming venue for many years to come.”
“Steve has had a commitment and passion for the youth of Manchester that has been amazing over the last 45 years,” said Don Pinard, chief of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Division. “His vision and financial backing for this project is another example of his dedication. Manchester once again leads the way providing top notch quality facilities for our citizens through its strong public and private partnerships.”
“I’m grateful for his commitment to our community, for his friendship and for his infectious passion for the sport of swimming,” added Craig.
Van Der Beken said the project would not have been possible without the support of Craig, Pinard, Tom Mattson and Andy Vachon of Parks and Recreation, architect Fred Matuszewski, and his brother, attorney David Van Der Beken.
“I had an opportunity to do it, and I didn’t want to leave this world, or the coaching ranks, saying I shoulda, woulda, coulda,” said Van Der Beken. “We’ll all be jumping in to try and do as many turns as we can off this wall.”
Information regarding rules and hours of operation for Manchester’s public swimming pools can be found at www.manchester nh.gov.
– Paul Feely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.