The divers won.

After a two-week campaign to add platform diving and a full competitive component to the design for a new Belmont Plaza Pool complex, and packing the City Council chambers on Tuesday night, the City Council added a full diving well including a 10-meter platform to the indoor pool complex before approving the entire concept in full.

Third District Councilman Gary DeLong started the discussion after the staff report by saying he would support moving ahead with a competitive pool, but only if it included an indoor diving complex. He received strong support from Fourth District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell, and when Mayor Bob Foster asked for a motion on the floor before public discussion began, the pair offered a scripted proposal that included platform diving inside, a 30-meter by 30-meter or more indoor swimming area at least 8 feet deep or more and an expedited schedule for both the permanent complex and the temporary pool to be built while construction begins.

“This is a great day for Long Beach,” DeLong said. “We are here tonight to approve creation of a world class aquatic facility, and I’m confident that we will take that next step. I think the staff has made a great start here, but there are some improvements I think we can add. That will absolutely include a diving well indoors.”

The announcement was met with enthusiastic applause.

Belmont Plaza was built in the 1960s, and hosted two U.S. Olympics swimming trials in 1968 and 1976. It no longer meets most competition standards, however.

On Jan. 10, the indoor pool was closed when an engineering report warned it was at risk of collapse in even a moderate earthquake. That preliminary report was confirmed on Feb. 1, and it was announced the pool would stay closed permanently.

City officials have sought replacement of the complex for some time, starting one design process in 2008, but dropping it due to budget constraints. Last year, the City Council allocated $500,000 to study what to do with the complex. When the pool closed a preliminary design was released that included two large pools, a third therapy pool and the ability to accommodate competitive swimming, water polo, swimming lessons and recreational swimming.

What the staff’s recommended plan didn’t accommodate was competitive diving, which requires a platform as well as springboards.

That lack ignited a firestorm in the aquatic community, and especially the diving community. The McCormick Divers, coached by Debbie McCormick, has trained at Belmont Plaza for decades, and McCormick was able to rally support from many, including Olympian Greg Louganis.

After hearing from swimmers and water polo supporters who had been told there wouldn’t be sufficient competitive water space either, city staff quickly put together a public meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 6, where more than 100 diving supporters made their case.

That group and more attended Tuesday’s council meeting. Those testifying Tuesday in favor of the complex and including the diving component included Louganis, Olympic swimmers Susie Atwood and current swimmer Jessica Hardy, McCormick and a range of the aquatic community leaders.

“I want to compliment you all,” Mayor Bob Foster said after the 45 minutes of public comment concluded. “You not only shaped this proposal, which appears to be moving forward, but I believe I’ve never seen any group perform as you did tonight. It was a pleasure listening to you.”

Assistant City Manager Suzanne Frick said it would take about a year to receive all the necessary approvals, including from the state Lands Board and the California Coastal Commission. Construction of a new permanent complex could take two years, and a temporary pool could be up in six to nine months. The temporary pool will cost around $4 million, and early estimates of the complete complex are about $62 million.

After other council members also praised the supporters, and two were reassured that final designs and spending plans would be reviewed by the public and the council, the motion passed unanimously.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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