By Derek Casanovas
It's quiet. Aside from the soft buzz of the Whitworth Aquatics Center's ventilation system, the water is dead calm. A few ripples swirl in the Efferdent-blue water near the railings and edges of the pool.
Steve Schadt, '96, walks along the slick white deck floor toward his office, toting flowers and Red Robin gift cards for Whitworth's swim team members who are graduating this semester.
Sporting a short-sleeve polo under the warm breeze that wafts through the building, Schadt looks briefly out the large windows at the Back 40.
"At 5:30 to 6 in the morning when the sun's just starting to peek up in the sky, it's nice in here," Schadt says, reflecting on his teams' daybreak practices.
Schadt is the head coach of the men's and women's swim teams. In addition to pulling double duties as coach, Schadt has been the director of the Aquatics Center for five years and the main maintenance person for the pool for the past two.
Schadt strides swiftly toward the main pump room – the central nervous system of the Aquatics Center. The brain is an automated Strantrol system, which digitally monitors critical chemical levels like pH, chlorine and alkalinity.
"It's just the same as your backyard pool or hot tub, except much larger," Schadt says.
Further inside, a maze of ventilation tubes, hoses, replacement parts and chemicals surround a large rectangular tank in the center of the room.
A pink, plastic Easter egg, an unexpected piece of debris, bobs in this rectangular surge tank, a concrete trough where the pool backwashes filtered water.
"You wouldn't believe what comes through [this] filter system," Schadt says. A long-handled white mesh net lying across the surge tank sags with broken plastic, toys and goggles.
The tank is where Schadt manually tests chemical levels daily to ensure the automated system is properly calibrated.
"It's funny with pools – people don't really say a lot until something goes wrong," Schadt says. "I don't hear people say 'You're doing a great job with the chemicals today.'" Nevertheless, Schadt says he never feels as though his toils go unappreciated.
When the Strantrol system determines a level is out of balance, a feeder pump dispenses chlorine or Muriatic acid from huge powder keg-like tubs into the pool. This prevents health risks like skin irritations and bacteria growth from emerging, Schadt says.
If something catastrophic happens, the system is programmed to dial Schadt at home and Whitworth Security to alert them to problems, as it did early on a Sunday morning last fall months ago when the chlorine level was precariously low.
As he pours chlorine tablets into the cylindrical feeding tub, Schadt is adamant he is not the only one who puts in time as the facility's caretaker. He credits other staff members and the Strantrol system for helping with the upkeep.
Schadt spends only 15-to-20 minutes a day feeding chlorine tablets into the tub, checking chemical levels and reading Strantrol levels on the wall display. The Strantrol saves him quite a bit of work, he says.
"I would be doing double and triple the work to get things back into whack," Schadt estimates.
Schadt says his Whitworth colleagues, Supervisor of Maintenance and Repair Dick Pettis and General Tradesman Bill Dormady, deal with major breakdowns. Assistant Aquatic Director and adjunct faculty member Patty Murphy, assistant swim coaches and student lifeguards keep the pool clean when he's away. Schadt is grateful for the helping hands.
"I'm very aware of [the help], because not every university is like that," Schadt explains. "My hat's off to Facilities, they've done a ton to help keep [the Aquatic Center] running well."
Facilities Services plans to upgrade the pool's filtration system this summer. Currently, the pool discharges minute amounts of chlorine, sodium bicarbonate and Muriatic acid into a leech field behind the Tennis Bubble. An upgraded system would eliminate these environmentally harmful pollutants before they are expelled from the pool.
"What we have now is good, but then it will be very, very good," Schadt insists.
His voice swells with pride as he shows off the pool – a contentedness with the liquid home he oversees.
"It's kind of like a car," Schadt explains. "Every car has its own personality and style – it's the same with a pool."
Some personality comes into play with the pool's temperature. NCAA regulations dictate the pool must be between 79-81 degrees Fahrenheit for competitions. The temperature hovered at 79 for the dual meet between University of Puget Sound and Whitworth today. However, Schadt – who was an All-American swimmer while a Whitworth student – bumps the temperature to 80 for swim practices and to 82-83 for children's swimming lessons.
Schadt estimates that a few hundred occupants populate the pool from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day for classes, water aerobics and swim practice.
After putting in time at the pool as caretaker, coach and director, Schadt rarely enjoys the fruits of his labor. The five-time Northwest Conference championship coach says he enjoys running the trails near the school.
Hours later, the pool teems with swimmers for the dual meet. Water thrashes around as latex-capped swimmers make lap after lap. Perhaps this is another moment Schadt holds dear to his heart.
"[I have] a lot of good memories at the pool," Schadt says about the Aquatics Center. "It's been great, with the relationships I've formed and a lot of good times with good people."
The Pirate swimmers posted some good times of their own today. The men pushed their NWC dual meet winning streak to 57 straight with the win over UPS, while the women completed an undefeated regular season with their victory.
But now the ruckus of the dual meet has died out. The visiting swimmers' bus is rumbling home to Tacoma. The slamming of lockers and crackling of shower water on tile are gone. The stands where spectators once sat are silent.
Schadt will take one more chemical reading before he leaves today. He will be back at dawn tomorrow to do it all over; to ensure that the pool stays that Efferdent-blue. When Schadt performs his seldom seen routine once again.