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Cushing Pool renovation means new facilities for UNK Wrestling

GRACE MCDONALD / ANTELOPE STAFF The Cushing Pool was built in 1962 and decommissioned in 2016. Since then, the UNK swim team commutes to Kearney High School’s pool for practices.

The Cushing Pool will be remodeled into a new wrestling facility following five years of disuse since it was decommissioned in 2016. The $2-2.5 million project will fulfill the wrestling team’s need for more space. 

The renovation is in the early stages. 

“We haven’t identified a fold schematic design or anything like that yet, or timelines, but we’re excited about it,” said Jon Watts, the vice chancellor of Business and Finance. “We’ve got a great wrestling program. We got some nice progress in fundraising for it. The university set aside funds the day they decommissioned the pool, so we have the funding set aside to do something with the area.”

Construction will progress according to a phased renovation. 

Phase one of construction will involve working on locker room spaces, coaches offices and a small coaches’ locker room. The completed project will feature redone windows, more match space and more room for workout equipment. 

“Phase one could be the only phase if it’s done correctly, and then it really just allows us to grow upon that as the program grows and as things change,” said Greg Christen, the project manager for the wrestling space. 

The room’s largest feature — the empty swimming pool —  will undergo the most change. 

“Phase one really focuses on the pool,” Christen said. “In regards to filling in the pool itself, kind of re-flattening up that floor, filling in, leveling in all the other spaces because there’s some lips around the pool.”

Since its construction in 1962, the pool has experienced structural problems and become financially difficult for the Athletics Department to continue running. Another contributor to the decision to decommission the pool was the lack of use outside of the UNK Swim Team, which moved its practices to Kearney High School’s USA Swimming-certified pool that opened in 2016.

As a result, the wrestling program has an opportunity to upgrade its facilities.  

Loper wrestlers have practiced in the basement of the Health and Sports Center since 1990. The last time construction impacted the program was in 2002 when a portion of the wrestling room was turned into football offices, taking away nearly 25% of the team’s mat space. 

“Primarily, the pool space will be converted into pretty much wall-to-wall wrestling mats, so the primary purpose would be to up our square footage of usage,” said Dalton Jensen, head coach of UNK’s wrestling team.

Until the four-mat wrestling room is completed, the team will continue to practice with two mats. 

“[The current wrestling room] comfortably fits 20 wrestlers, and you’re part trying to cram 30 or 35 wrestlers on there,” said Marc Bauer, the athletics director. “You’re just increasing the opportunity for there to be more accidents or injuries.”

Bauer said new scholarship opportunities, such as the Nebraskan Promise, will allow for more recruits to form a second team alongside the NCAA national runners-up. 

 Alongside athletes, other students will have access to the facilities.  

“For what we’re looking at right now, it’s more than just a wrestling room,” Bauer said. “It will be a multi-use facility that- we will share it with kinesiology sports science, where hopefully they can have some tumbling classes or yoga classes. We look forward to the opportunity to have it as a classroom space.”

Christen said he doesn’t want to disclose a definite timeline because “there’s a lot of variables.” Bauer said the project could start late summer “with an endpoint somewhere around November.” In the meantime, the Athletics Department is finalizing the budget and working on designs with an architect firm. 

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