WEST FARGO - The competition pool inside the new Hulbert Aquatic Center here has a distinction none other in the world can claim.
Director Chad Day said before the state-of-the-art modular pool was disassembled and shipped to West Fargo, the most decorated Olympic athlete ever made his mark in it during the 2016 Olympic Trials at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
"It's the last competition pool that Michael Phelps swam in on United States soil, so that's kind of a big selling point," Day said.
There's no swimming facility in the U.S. with enough seating to host the Olympic Trials, so every four years, a pool is "built" in a large arena and is up for grabs afterward.
A local nonprofit group called UP Aquatics went after the distinctive pool, finding a donor to put up the money in short order. Now, it's the centerpiece of Hulbert Aquatic Center at 620 7th Ave. E., next to L.E. Berger Elementary School.
By sometime this summer, it will be joined by a warm water pool for swimming lessons, being built where the former L.E. Berger pool used to be.
Karen Nitzkorski, who ran UP Aquatics' capital campaign, likes the interest the project created. "I have never seen as much buzz around swimming," Nitzkorski said.
The nonprofit also recently secured an overhead/underwater camera system, which will allow the center to livestream events.
But another feature may be the most important in attracting high-profile competitions.
"We believe it's one of the fastest pools in the world right now," Day said.
Why's the pool so 'fast'?
Several features go into making a so-called fast pool that can shave seconds off a swimmer's race time.
A product of Myrtha Pools, based in Italy, the West Fargo pool has an external gutter system and flow-through bulkheads that absorb a swimmer's wake. "That wake is being pushed out of the pool, essentially," Day said.
The most advanced athletes might see a small improvement, while others may be able to trim their times by a lot. Day used an example from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Women's Swimming Championships held in February.
"We had swimmers shaving 30 seconds off of 500 times. It's pretty significant," he said.
Day said that reputation could help the Hulbert Aquatic Center secure bids to host championships for USA Swimming and some college events, like the NCAA Division II nationals.
Since opening four months ago, the Hulbert Aquatic Center has already hosted more than 20 swim meets, with many others scheduled for the summer and fall.
Day said it's plenty busy, for now.
"But if we're as busy as we are right now at this time next year, I don't think we'll be where we want to be, so our goal is to continue to grow," he said.
School district as a partner
Leah Swedberg, a West Fargo High School health and physical education teacher, used to bring her classes to the old L.E. Berger pool.
She said she didn't think it was a poor venue at the time, but sees the stark contrast now.
Students in her fitness triathlon class swim at the Hulbert Aquatic Center twice a week. "It's well lit and it has so many more lanes and it's so much more welcoming. It's just an exciting pool," Swedberg said.
Nitzkorski has high praise for the West Fargo School District, which partnered with UP Aquatics on the project.
After the nonprofit secured the Olympic Trials pool and donated it to the school district, the district built the facility around it, using funds from a bond referendum approved by West Fargo voters.
She's also grateful to Steve and Diane Hulbert, the campaign's first $1 million donors. The naming of the center honors the contribution made in memory of their daughter, Heidi Hulbert Rowe, who swam and dove for Fargo South High School and was later a Division I diver at Iowa State University.
Day, originally from Nashville, Tenn., was brought to West Fargo specifically to oversee construction of the Hulbert Aquatic Center, and he's looking forward to watching it flourish.
"For the foreseeable future, I see staying here and getting this rocking and rolling," he said.