Sep. 24—Danielle Andalora is the owner of Niagara Aquatics, a swim club servicing the communities of Western New York. Throughout the summer, she and her club used the pool at Outwater Park to continue training their competitive team while offering their Learn to Swim program to local residents.
At the Wednesday meeting of the Lockport Board of Education, Andalora appealed to the school trustees to offer a similar situation for her swimmers during the school year by allowing them the use of the Lockport High School pool.
"I started the Niagara Aquatics club two and a half years ago. Lockport High School used to be our home until March of 2020 when (the pandemic) started," Andalora said. "We've been swimming as a team since July of 2020 at the Lockport Town and Country Club. We swam outdoors until October 2020 when it became too cold for our swimmers."
In the following winter months, Andalora said, Lockport families had to transport their swimmers to the University at Buffalo and Jewish Community Center. That caused a "financial hardship" for her club, she said, because the rent for those pools was high.
This past April, the club turned to using the Newfane school pool and in the summer utilized Community Pool. The club has since returned to Newfane.
During the summer, Andalora said, "We taught 79 Lockport kids, many who didn't know how to swim, and we were able to move 10 to our swim team. However, only one has transferred because of our location now."
Andalora appealed to the trustees to see swimming as a life-saving skill that families in Lockport deserve to have, and understand that many of them can't afford transportion to Newfane. She also noted that many members of the LHS swim team trained with Niagara Aquatics.
Backing Andalora's appeal was Sue Capell, executive director of Lockport-based Youth Mentoring Services of Niagara County. Capell told the trustees about how Niagara Aquatics added to the YMS step-up learning program operated at Cornerstone CFCU Arena.
Through Niagara Aquatics, she said, youths in the step-up program "learned to swim, and for our kids with ADHD and sensory issues, they didn't just learn to swim, they did better overall."
"If you allow them to continue to swim — they're low income kids, they can't afford to go to Newfane — but continue to swim here in Lockport, they could learn so much," Capell said.
Tom Colson of Clarence, who identified himself as a swim club parent, suggested to the trustees that a deal with Niagara Aquatics would be good for both the school district and the community.
Colson said that he and the other parents are willing to pay $40 an hour — $400 a week — to rent the LHS pool. Further, he noted that the parents kill time after dropping off their swimmers by "gassing up our cars ... going to restaurants (and) sometimes go shopping," then they tend to take their "starving" swimmers out for meals at nearby restaurants.
"So, I'm thinking we want to have that money spent in Lockport businesses," Colson said.
Also weighing in on Niagara Aquatics' request was Lisa Damiani, a consultant who worked with Niagara Swimming, one of 59 local swimming committees within USA Swimming, to help clubs get access to pools after the Covid pandemic arrived in New York in March 2020.
"This is a year where, typically, participation in swim clubs usually explodes because people see the Olympic swimmers and there's lots of registration and signing up and people wanting to learn to swim," Damiani said. "With the lack of access, that's going to be extremely concerning and we're going to be impacting another couple years of students and children."
"Public facilities should be available to the public," Damiani added. "I just want to ask you to think of prioritizing for the children. Everybody's been under a lot of strain and having an activity where you can let out some steam, it's a good activity."
School board president Karen Young said a decision on Niagara Aquatics' request will be made in October.