From the outside, the most striking features of  ETU’s DuBose Aquatics Center are the bas-relief carvings of sailing vessels and divers which frame the entrance. Students who answer the carvings’ call to adventure find a pleasant but less ostentatious interior. The single-story building offers a training pool for diving and swimming, as well as an Olympic pool with two sets of bleachers. The adjacent outdoor recreational pool is popular with students in the late Spring and early Fall semesters but during the Summer the sun’s rays heat the shallow water to the temperature of a warm bath. At that point students who are desperate to beat the heat usually retreat to the “Lost Pond”, a natural, spring-fed pool in the heart of Pinebox green space known as Crenshaw’s Woods.

Although construction of the the Aquatics Center was completed in 2004, the entrance’s distinctive bas-relief carvings harken from the school’s original natatorium which had been built in Neo-Classical style. The original natatorium was the last campus building to be completed prior to the Great Depression and by the time money finally loosened up again after WWII, architectural trends had changed. Its distinctive, classical design (as well as cool waters) made it a beloved campus landmark. While the outside boasted bas-relief carvings of wooden sailing ships, sea creatures, and brave divers, the interior was every bit as impressive. An enormous statue of King Neptune loomed over visitors in the lobby and both indoor pools were lavishly decorated with murals depicting lifelike mermaids and other sea creatures which alternately beckoned or threatened swimmers.

Sadly, in the late 1950s the beloved natatorium suffered from a seismic event that rendered it structurally unsafe. Administrators arrived to work one morning to find numerous puddles throughout the building and both pools cracked and half-empty. Engineers determined that the soil beneath the foundation had shifted, causing in effect a “mini earthquake”. Not only were the pools cracked, but the foundation and walls as well. Tragically, the beautiful murals overlooking the pools experienced some of the most violent structural damage, looking practically smashed in places. Although the building was condemned for safety reasons and eventually destroyed, students mounted a campaign to save as much of the old building as possible. Unfortunately, with the murals destroyed and the statue of Neptune misplaced in the confusion, little remained that could be salvaged except the bas-relief designs.  These were carefully removed and placed in storage until a replacement natatorium could be built. Ironically, the old site didn’t stay vacant for long. After many surveys and much bulldozing, the Ravens basketball arena–the Roost–was constructed on the site of the old natatorium in the early 60s.

Yet, for nearly 50 years campus politics and shifting priorities pushed a replacement natatorium down the priority list. During this period the swim team trained on open water at Lake Greystone, about which the less said the better. Let’s just say it was “character building”. It wasn’t until a wealthy alumnus with fond memories of the natatorium left a donation for a replacement that a proper swimming facility finally returned to campus. A university archivist eagerly directed architects to the still-warehoused bas-reliefs, allowing designers to create a building that acknowledged earlier times. Sadly, other than the carvings the DuBose Aquatics Center shares little of the glamour of its predecessor. Even so, students are glad for a place to swim on campus and the ETU swim teams are thankful for being able to practice without getting mud between their toes.

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