New director hopes to see local pool open in near future

The Philomath School District’s new pool director can’t make any promises but hopes to reopen Clemens Community Pool next month with confidence that swimmers can be safe while getting back in the water.

“We’re looking to reopen in phases and I’m hoping to do that by the first of the year — that’s really my goal,” said Daniel Mikula, who joined the school district in late October. “It will be limited because of COVID but we’re kind of following some other programs in the area.”

Restrictions will obviously come into play.

“We only have five lanes, which means for lap swim, we can have five swimmers,” he said. “It’s not going to be open the door and the community can come swim whenever they want — they’ll have to call in and make a reservation and some of those necessary things that I wish weren’t a part of it but unfortunately are.”

WANTED: LIFEGUARDS
The Philomath School District is hiring part-time
lifeguards at Clemens Community Pool. The job
includes active surveillance, risk management,
emergency preparedness and maintenance duties.
Click here for a full job description and information
on how to apply.

Mikula said he then hopes to “very quickly thereafter start with some water aerobics and water therapy.”

Mikula, 50, and his wife, Dr. Margaret Mikula, came to Oregon from Pennsylvania, where they had lived for the past 20 years. In addition to pool director duties, he is also the Warriors head swim coach and is teaching language arts at Philomath Academy.

“I was a high school English teacher and high school coach in the winter time and then I coached a 180-swimmer age group program in the summertime,” Mikula said about his work in Pennsylvania. “So pretty much living on deck.”

The couple has five children — three here in Oregon with them and two others in college on the East Coast. They had no connections to Oregon before making the move and relocated here for his wife’s job as a chief quality officer for Samaritan Health.

Mikula is also an accomplished swimmer, including triathlons, and competed collegiately at Xavier University (Ohio).

“We’re pretty fortunate to have gotten him,” PHS Athletic Director Tony Matta said. “He’s a lifelong swimmer, swam in college, ton of experience coaching and whatnot, so we’re really happy to have him.”

Mikula said he enjoys working with swimmers of all skill levels.

“Both of the programs that I have coached and am currently coaching is that you don’t just get premier swimmers,” Mikula said. “I really enjoy working with the premier swimmer and pushing the envelope but I also get great joy out of the kids that are maybe just giving the sport a try.”

Here at Philomath, Mikula in team workouts has seen both ends of the spectrum.

“There are kids who have traditionally been state qualifiers and then I have a handful of freshmen who want to see what the sport is all about,” Mikula said. “So far before the (recent pandemic-related) freeze, they seemed to have been enjoying it and are looking like they want to be longtime swimmers. And it grows the program here in Philomath.”

The pool director job is new to Mikula.

“While I have pretty much spent most of my life on a pool deck, it’s been more in a coaching capacity,” he said. “So this is a little bit of a new fit for me. I’m super excited about it … I’ve got my pool operator’s license and all of those necessary details to make sure the Benton County Health Department is ready for me to open the doors.”

Mikula said Clemens Community Pool is in great shape. Scott Krueger of Benton County Environmental Health came out to visit and they walked around the pool.

“There are a few things that we are going to be addressing but ultimately, at this point, we are able to have the high school team,” he said. “I can serve as a certified guard as well as the coach — the state of Oregon allows for that. … But I see no reason why we can’t begin to utilize it when we’re properly staffed and we’ve got things organized.”

One reality associated with public swimming pools is that they are not cheap to operate.

“I’m in the process of hiring guards because we’re basically starting with a completely blank slate at this point,” he said. “So we’ve got some trainings that are going to be coming up with some lifeguards to make sure I can staff. Once again, I won’t open the pool if I can’t do it safely. I know that can be a frustrating thing but that’s an essential thing. Making sure that we’re properly staffed is going to be a key.”

Mikula said one of his priorities will be to get some swim training for the younger kids, which fits right in with why Rex and Ethel Clemens wanted to build the pool in the first place. But the pandemic restrictions are creating challenges.

“That poses some additional struggles with COVID because a lot of that is hands-on lessons in the water, so I’m kind of sleeping on that one and figuring out how we can best serve the community while following the rules,” Mikula said.

“Obviously, the rules are there for safety and it’s always safety first,” he added, “but in the big picture, I look at some of the records of what the Clemens pool looked like and I want to offer as much of that as we can under the current restrictions.”

In recent years, a district-organized pool committee has served as an advisory group to help with various facets of the operation, including how to deal with repairs and hopes for the future.

“That’s going to be important for me to hear what they want,” Mikula said. “I’m certainly not a magician and give everybody everything but my job is going to sit down and say, ‘How can we best utilize the facility?’”

Mikula said he’s happy to be in Philomath as an educator, coach and pool director.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the community,” he said. “Every aspect of what I’m doing with three different hats is equally exciting.”

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