February 21, 2024

Nassau Swim Club Lease Terminated

SUMMER DAYS AT NASSAU SWIM CLUB: Princeton University has informed the Nassau Swim Club (NSC) that it will be terminating its lease agreement with the club in April. Unhappy to see the closure of their pool in the woods between the Graduate College and the Institute for Advanced Study, NSC members are continuing to challenge the decision. (Photo courtesy of Nassau Swim Club)

By Donald Gilpin

After more than 50 years of welcoming swimmers to its pool in the woods off Springdale Road, the Nassau Swim Club (NSC) has received notice that Princeton University is terminating its lease as of April 23.

Though faced by the challenges of declining membership and a variety of financial setbacks over the past decade, the NSC remains a much loved Princeton institution, and the current members and their families are not going to go away quietly.

“Tell Princeton University that Nassau Swim Club is Worth Saving!” reads a change.org petition, posted by the NSC board, that by the morning of February 20 had gained more than 460 signatures in less than a week. “NSC is a beloved summertime tradition for many people and its loss will be felt deeply, in Princeton and beyond,” the petition states, describing NSC as “an important community asset.”

“I’m very disappointed in the decision to terminate NSC’s lease because it’s a deep and irreversible loss to the town,” wrote Monica Skoge, NSC membership chair and a Princeton University graduate school alumna, in an email. “NSC is a Princeton tradition, having been around for over 50 years, and has a devoted community of past and present members.”

In addition to the petition, Skoge and a group of NSC members have mounted a membership drive and fundraising campaign. They are continuing to appeal the University’s decision despite the rejection of their January 30 request (four pages plus supporting documents) that the University not terminate the lease.

In a February 19 email, Princeton University Director of Media Relations Jennifer Morrill reiterated the University’s determination to terminate the PSC lease on April 23. The University plans to remove the pool and related structures, but does not have other immediate plans for use of the land at this time, she added.

In an October 23, 2023 email, Princeton University Director of Business Services Sandra Parisi notified the NSC that the University would be exercising its right to terminate the January 13, 1970 lease agreement with NSC in six months.

The email pointed out that the University and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) have provided support for the operations of the NSC for many years, and cited NSC financial problems including inability to make “payments on its debt obligation of at least $319,857 to PNC and the University,” as well as inability to pay for next season’s operational costs and to “address future capital improvements to maintain the facilities.”

In its January 30 response to Parisi, the NSC Board of Directors asked the University for a three-year extension, “granting us a three-year window in which to demonstrate a renewed commitment to the future of the Club from both a volunteer and financial perspective” so that “NSC can prove its solvency and long-term viability.”

The directors’ letter went on to cite an encouraging survey of members who expressed willingness to support the club with a range of volunteer tasks as well as financial contributions; plans for a capital fundraising campaign among current members and NSC alumni; optimistic plans for a strengthened 2024 budget; extensive plans for increasing membership in the University and IAS communities and in the larger Princeton area; and innovative programs for children.

The letter emphasized the NSC’s favorable location on the west side of Princeton, easily accessible to the University Graduate College, graduate housing, and the IAS campus. “We feel strongly that NSC is a key part of the town of Princeton, and is an asset to both the University and IAS,” the letter stated. “The closing of the club would be an enormous loss for its members and the wider communities. It is for these reasons that we ask for the University’s continued support. Following the path we’ve mapped out herein, we are confident that Nassau will thrive in the future.”

Richard Bolster, former NSC board president and currently one of the members working on a fundraising campaign, reflected on his family’s engagement with NSC since its start in 1970. “It’s really a special place,” he said. “Somehow for more than 50 years a community that is wonderful forms there every summer. It’s truly diverse. I grew up there hearing all different languages, seeing Institute for Advanced Study families that would come in and University professors with their families.”

Bolster’s parents were members in the early 1970s and he swam there as a young boy, then served as a lifeguard in the 1980s. He lived in California and New York after college, but moved back to the area and rejoined the Club. “Now my daughter is a high school junior and has been on the NSC team for about 10 years, so it’s the third generation,” he added.

He emphasized the safe, welcoming, supportive environment. “it’s a place where kids can hang out and be kids,” he said. “It’s very safe. It’s small enough that you can see everybody. Nobody’s ever out of eyesight. You can just let your kids be kids and not worry too much about them or hover over them.”

Bolster went on to express surprise and dismay at the University’s decision to terminate the lease. The NSC has been struggling financially ever since major renovations at the Community Park Pool about 10 years ago drew some members away from NSC, and the University had been stepping up to pay taxes and provide other financial support.

“We’re baffled and frustrated,” Bolster said in criticizing the University’s decision to end that support.

Longtime NSC member Chiara Nappi recalled her family’s involvement with NSC over the past 37 years. “Our children spent their summers swimming there and competing on the Nassau Swim Team,” she wrote in an email. “Our grandchildren have done the same in the past decade. They all have wonderful memories of Nassau: a full day aquatics program, a great time outdoors in a bucolic, safe, and nurturing environment. There is no place like Nassau!”

Skoge described her family’s recent experience as club members. ”NSC has brought a lot of joy to my family, friends, and neighbors,” she wrote. “We joined last summer, and by the end of the summer I was telling all my friends about what a hidden gem I found. I loved our daily routine. My daughter had an hour of swim team practice in the morning and then she could play with friends in the aquatics program the rest of the day, making bracelets, playing board games and pool games, and doing arts and crafts.”

She continued, “My kids loved the large baby pool, which provides a place for kids to play regardless of whether they can swim. It was great for my daughter’s sixth birthday party. Our summer at NSC was everything I wanted — spending our days at a pool in the woods, surrounded by the beauty of nature, and with a friendly and diverse community of people. I wasn’t planning on sending my children to any other camp this summer. So you can imagine how devastated I was when I learned NSC was being closed permanently. I don’t know of any other place like NSC.”

Skoge is still hoping that the swim club will be able to find a way to survive. “I’m still hopeful that we can reach some kind of agreement with Princeton University, IAS, or the town that could save the pool,” she said. “The stakes are simply too high to give up until all options have been explored and the community has had their say.”