Archive for the 'Madison' Category

Humanities Building, the one no one likes

Today in the Wisconsin State Journal was an article about the future of the Humanities Building on the UW Campus. This building has been on the chopping block for the school over the last couple of years and it has been at the center of a large debate, as the article accurately suggests. There is a lot going on with the building which is sad, and good that it is getting the attention it is after years of neglect in the city… I will give my personal take on it, as someone who has grown up in Madison, and as someone who has attended classes in it.

Ever since I can remember, the Humanities Building has been one of my favorites on Campus. And though it is no longer my favorite, due to discovering some other buildings like the Red Gym, as well as the creation of many new buildings such as Granger Hall, Humanities still maintains a special place in my heart. You see, I have always had a special fondness for buildings that were not typical, and Humanities is not. It is angular and modern, some of my favorite features in man-made creations. To this day, i think the aesthetics of the outsides of the building is very cool, I even have a special place in my heart for other brutalist buildings on the UW Campus, in particular White which some English professors have declared to be the building without soul. I don’t see this, I see these buildings as some of the more original buildings on campus and for that reason alone almost completely worth keeping, not to mention the architects behind the projects as well.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I am in the “Save Humanities” camp. I’m not really. The building has issues, major issues. It was not built well, and I doubt it was the fault of the Architect, the UW needed it done cheaply, and cheaply it was done. Today it shows. Inside the building, there is very little pleasing about it. It feels like you are walking through a windowless dungeon with only one nice courtyard to give any sort of appeal to the entire complex. It almost feels like you are wandering to a jail complex really and it isn’t cool. The classes are small, and many are uncomfortably angular and warehousey which is not conducive to learning. There are many other issues, it wasn’t made to be an efficient building, it leaks, the foundation is cracking, it is a wreck. There is no denying it is a building that is dieing.

I do not blame the UW from wanting to get rid of it, yet it is still a work of art in its own right. I think if I leaned towards any camp on the debate I’d say that I hope they reconstruct the insides to make it a more working and functional building, re-establish the foundations to fix cracking, and finish off some of the other features that the architect had intended to put into the building which were cut for money issues (like carpeting in the hallways, and stone entryways) to make the building more appealing. The problem is that this would cost a lot of money, and in this age, Brutalist design is not well appreciated. That doesn’t mean that it never will be again, nor does it mean it should not be saved I think it is difficult, and it likely is cheaper to just start a new building. In the end, it really is the UW’s decision to do what they will. If they feel it is more cost effective to start over, then that is what they need ot do. However, I can’t help feel saddened that in 30 years whatever they choose to replace it with will be receiving the same problems that this one is currently having. Not to mention that I am sure that whatever building they do replace it, won’t be anywhere as original or cool as this building is.

I would likely be there for the demolishing of the building to give it one last fond farewell to a building that, while it had its problems, has certainly been a landmark along University Avenue for decades.

Madison Pool, and why it sucks

Last year, Madison opened a brand new swimming pool in town. The first public pool in Madison (we have 3 big lakes so it has been difficult to do a pool). When I first heard about it a few years ago when construction began, I was very optimistic. While Madison does have lakes, they are polluted from overuse and local pesticides and many beaches are unusable. When the pool finally opened, I was joyous… that is until I actually went there. Now let me preface this by saying that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the pool. What is bad about the pool is really just management issues and too many people (largely because it is the only pool).

About the pool: Goodman Pool is open from 12:30 to 8:00, 7 days a week, with an hour and 15 minute break at dinner time on Monday through Friday. It costs $3.50 to go to it if you are a resident of Madison. They offer swimming lessons generally in the morning times before the pool opens, as well as during the hour break, on Monday through Thursday it seems. The pool itself features 2 water slides, 2 diving boards, and 3 spray tools in the shallow area, a basketball hoop, as well as a fairly large sandbox area. There are lap times available where they open up two lanes for laps from 6-9 am Monday through Friday.  They recently just opened the pool about a week and a half ago (I think on June 16).

So my issues with the pool….

The hours is the first thing that jump out at me. I understand that they need to offer swimming lessons for kids, after all this is the only pool in the city and they need to fulfill this purpose for people. (Even though previously swim classes had largely been dealt with by the YMCA and other health clubs, a new place for this was likely needed). Still given that there are other alternatives, I would like to see some slightly longer hours especially considering that the pool itself doesn’t open until ALL schools in the area are done with. (Conveniently, school finished in Madison for elementary schools on June 15). To this end I like that they have spots in the morning and evening to accommodate all families. However, I don’t think that they couldn’t cut out some of the morning hours a little and offer lessons from 9-11am and the same 4:45 to 6pm Monday through Friday (currently they exclude Friday, so this would create new times for them to replace the old times with), as well as offering classes on Saturday from 9-11am (this one would allow more people to have alternative hours). Then open up the pool from 11am to 9:30pm, adding 3 and a half hours to the pool time (opening the pool partially at 10:30 may also be an option if they can work a limited area for swimming lessons to occur at the same time). Now I also realize their current hours makes it convenient to have only a single life guard staff (with maybe a few part timers coming in to fill in). But I think it is in the pool’s best interest to just suck it up and have two shifts every day…. I would guess the early hours would require fewer guards except on weekends, and then the second shift coming in can allow the first shift to have breaks, and then the first shift can easily give the second shift breaks before the first shift leaves, not unlike how an average retail store works. They could also use some of their swimming teachers as early morning guards if needed. These expanded hours would make the pool much more worthwhile for those paying the cost of admission, and may actually increase sales given that I think you’d have more people going for just a half day or something instead of currently where you likely get people going all day long. It would also increase concession sales as you now have people who may want to eat lunch but not leave at around 12-1. So more money would be made all the way around, and more people could get served. I also would suggest to the pool to be like every other pool in the northern states and open with memorial day weekend, 2-3 weeks earlier than when they open. Even if this meant more limited hours such as being open from 4-9 on weekdays and all day on weekends, then so be it. Even though we live in a cold state, it was desperately needed this year, and usually is every year (it hit 90 degrees by the end of May and has been almost pure heat ever since, with little rain to cool, a pool was really needed early in June).

Next issue is crowd… This is something that they can’t really do much about… this has more to do with the pool being Madison’s only, and could be helped by additional pools in the city (I think the East side in particular could use one as there aren’t even really lakes as close on the east). However, it is still overbearing to me. I think that with longer hours there’d be a much larger chance of the pool being a little more calm in the mornings and would increase my likeliness of going at that point. In the afternoons however, there isn’t room to really even swim, it is pretty much standing room only in the pool which takes out a lot of the fun to me. If they could disperse the crowd throughout the day just a little, it would help. I also would like to see 8 or 8:30 to 9:30 be turned into an adult only time, maybe with the lap pool being placed back out to give adults an evening time to really enjoy the pool as well. (I really hate constantly being splashed and swam into by little kids at the pool).  I think this one may also die down as the pool gets older and less special, but with 250,000+ residents in the city, I’m not really sure how true that is.

Which brings me to Money. This isn’t going to be what you think really. I’m going to propose a price increase here. Already after one year, the city has stated that even though the pool is constantly filled to the maximum capacity they aren’t making money on it yet (maybe this is because of remaining construction costs?) This tells me that they really are doing something wrong… I think the pool should break even if it is 1/2 to 3/4s capacity. This year they increased the season pass cost, but I think they need a general increase, especially if they open it to longer hours and need more life guards. I would suggest a cost of anywhere from $4 to $5, preferably $4.50, although honestly upping it a whole dollar would likely be a hard sell. To sort of off shoot this cost a bit, they could have a decreased cost if you buy the ticket after 6pm to $3 (I bet the money they’d gain from the price increase of the whole day would largely offset the cost reduction at night). This way those with less money could pay even less if they only came at night for a few hours (this would also help justify an adult only hour). The report on last year’s pool earnings and such stated that the average day brought in around 400 customers to the pool. A $1 increase would then mean $400 per day, which could then be used to offset the cost of perhaps $8-9/hour lifeguards to hire about 5 new lifeguards in and of itself (this is at $9 an hour for an 8 hour shift, I think $8 is more standard which would bring 6 guards). With 5-6 new guards you could easily open up the pool in the mornings and afternoons, but maybe have like diving boards open from 1-8 to accommodate a smaller staff shifts (with overlaps this actually wouldn’t be difficult to do and you could likely get away with 1 fewer lifeguard in evening time 2 – 3 fewer in morning, and then 1-2 middle shifts that would help cover the early evening times. This isn’t even mentioning the additional 3 hours of pool time every day (which could increase daily attendance to 450-500 every day), the added two weeks (which would bring in 14 days at 400 per day or 5600 extra people per year), extra concessions via extra hours, etc. This in and of itself would create a huge influx of new money for the park to take in. (this increase would also come with increases to the non-resident which would go from $4 to $5, youth which would go from $2.25 to $3, and senior from $2.75 to $4, after 6 prices would be a flat $3 for all residents ($3.50 for non), except $2.50 for youths. I would imagine such an increase in hours, weeks, and fees, would largely increase the profitability of the pool.

Minor other issues…. there are no where near enough chairs in this park for swimmers, not even enough to fill the cement, I think it fills the cement half way (there is an entire side without any chairs on it at all), the chairs they have are nice but I’d rather have enough chairs that are bad, rather than good chairs that no one can use. My roommate went yesterday 15 minutes early, stood in line for around a half an hour to get in and wasn’t able to get a chair, that is ridiculous. The sandbox area is great, it has water fountains and weird pipes and stuff for kids to have a lot of fun… however, they have these pumps pouring out water but no buckets or shovels or anything, if you don’t bring your own you are basically left just dumping it in the spot it falls… if you do bring your own someone is likely going to take it. They should have at least 2 or 3 pool owned buckets, if not other sand toys that kids can use in the box, this is the equivalent of if the pool put up the basketball hoop but expected you to bring the ball (they don’t but how awful would that be?). Too many guards… I honestly wonder if they have too many currently… given how many people attend the pool maybe not, but they could probably get away with 1 less guard, I think they currently have 2 guards stationed to the 2 diving boards which is dumb as that is likely one of the lower stress areas (after all you are dealing with 2 swimmers at a time instead of 20).

Comparison of my plan to the Sun Prairie pool (which is another local pool that many went to previous to the Madison Pool opening). The Sun Prairie pool charge $3 for afternoon or evening, or $5 for the whole day. Their hours are 1-8:30 on week days and 1-6 on weekends (they leave the 6-9 hours open for rentals). They also open on June 2, 14 days earlier than the Madison pool. With my plan the hours would be longer than Sun Prairies, a sign of the larger city population I think and would justify not having a cheaper afternoon price and instead just have all day prices at that point. Otherwise, at $4.50 it would actually be cheaper than Sun Prairie’s $5, so Madison could easily say that even with a $1 hike in price that they are being very competitive. I also think the lower price is somewhat justified as I believe the Sun Prairie pool is actually a bit bigger than the Madison Pool (I think the separated diving boards off into a separate pool because of that they have more use of the deeper area and lap pools and have a much larger shallow area as well (they even have 2 kiddie slides which Madison does not)). The start date would be similar in both instances so this isn’t really a problem.

So overall I think my new plan would be competitive. Though honestly I do think hours look to be probably where they are going to be. It seems most pools set up their hours to provide for a standard 8 hour life guard shift and no more. (I looked up a third pool out of the area to ensure this was true for the most part). However, I still think a pool like Madison that has 250,000 citizens with only one pool could probably easily get away with longer hours and still pack the pool.