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'Unprecedented' Season at Ridgewood pool

Updated: Jan 14

By Rebbecca Haushalter and Cherie Olsen

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ridgewood Pool at the corner of Lewon Drive and Barton Road managed to safely open its doors this summer, ensuring that members could enjoy all the benefits of the beloved facility including the swim team, adult lap swimming, and family open swims.

But it was not quite business as usual—pool administrators established an abundance of precautionary measures to keep swimmers safe amid the pandemic including reducing pool capacity and requiring masks when entering and exiting the facility. Changing rooms were closed and members were required to sign up for swim slots online. Once at the pool, swimmers and sunbathers sat in socially distanced lounge chairs that were bleached and rinsed every two hours.

Though the sounds of cheers at swim meets and jazz music at Sunday poolside brunches were conspicuously absent this year, longtime Orchard Ridge resident and pool member Cherie Olsen says COVID-19 can't dampen the spirit of the neighborhood pool and what it means to the community.

"Ridgewood has been one of the best things about summer for me and my family for the last 37 years," Olsen says. "Some of our most enduring friendships began at Ridgewood and this summer, Ridgewood was a way we were able to see one another and enjoy time together outdoors."

At more than 60 years old, Ridgewood Pool is the oldest outdoor pool in the City of Madison and a fixture in the city's extremely competitive swimming and diving community. The club draws members from across the Madison metropolitan area, including Fitchburg, Middleton, Oregon, Mount Horeb, and Verona.

The club's competitive spirit attracted numerous elite athletes who trained at the pool's facilities this summer including Ridgewood alumna and NCAA record holder Beata Nelson, Ally McHugh, and Cam Tysoe. The Badger Aquatics Club, Madison Aquatic Club, and Madison Gainers Diving Club also used Ridgewood as a home base for training, practicing in the wee morning hours and late into the evening after the pool closed, a schedule that was possible only thanks to the pool's commitment to the city's swimming community.

However, the clock is ticking for the pool's aging infrastructure, which, when built in 1958, was expected to last about 30 to 40 years. Now well beyond that predicted lifespan, pool administrators say the time has come to re-imagine Ridgewood Pool and its place in the community for the next 60 years.

Working with Barnett Architecture LLC over the past couple of years, the Ridgewood Pool Board of Directors has developed preliminary plans for the renovated facilities, including an expanded lower pool, a redesigned wading pool and dive well (including the beloved high dive), and a completely new bath and shower facility.

To help raise funds for the revamp and increase pool access for children and military veterans, a small group of pool members established the Ed Nebbins Foundation in 2017, which has already raised $2.1 million of the $4.2 million required to complete the renovations. (Fun fact: The foundation's namesake Ed Nebbins is the lead character in a popular tale shared with the youngest swim team members at Ridgewood Pool each year.)

Despite the tremendous fundraising success so far, pool administrators say there is more work to be done to keep Ridgewood Pool the neighborhood anchor and community gathering place it has been for the last 60 years. For more information about the planned pool renovations or to donate to the cause, visit◼

Rebbecca Haushalter is Vice President of the Ed Nebbins Foundation and co-chair of the ORNA Events committee. Cherie Olsen is chair of the ORNA Welcome committee.

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