The Harford County YMCA Penguins Swim Team, which spent the past 10 years competing in all its meets on the road, finally got the chance to swim at home, with a little help from four University of Delaware students.
As a senior project, four mechanical engineering students designed and built a removable bulkhead and charged only the cost of materials. The bulkhead, delivered near the beginning of the summer, reduced the Penguins' pool in Aberdeen from Olympic-size to the league-required length of 25 yards and gave the 65-member team the chance to hold a home meet for the first time two weeks ago.
"Because the pool is so long, they were always the away team," said Rich Przywara, executive director of Harford County YMCA. "They were always traveling. Really, the only option was to insert something into the pool."
Andrew Kingery of Bel Air, a graduate student in Delaware's civil engineering department and father of three Penguins, became treasurer of the team two years ago and told himself he would find a way to get the barrier for the pool.
Mr. Kingery looked into buying a commercially built bulkhead, but it was too expensive.
"To buy commercially, you have to pay a high-tech materials firm to build one for you," he said, and the cost would be about $30,000.
Instead, at the suggestion of a friend in Delaware's mechanical engineering department, Mr. Kingery and the swim team applied to the university. The department accepted the project, taken on by the four Delaware seniors. The final cost: $3,900.
Parents raised half the funds, and Harford County YMCA chipped in the rest.
The bulkhead is six separate pieces that span the width of the pool when attached, forming a 4-foot-wide bridge. Each piece is a large, fiberglass frame that stands on the bottom of the pool at the water depth of 5 feet.
The students made the frame with Pultex -- hollow, square fiberglass rods -- for strength and weight. The 1-inch-square rods are connected with stainless steel angles and epoxy. A fiberglass sheet is fastened to the front for the wall, and three-quarter-inch, marine-treated plywood is used for the deck.
Originally, the parents of team members wanted to use fiberglass for the deck and six starting blocks on the bulkhead, but ran out of money. In the future, they hope to replace the wood with fiberglass to make the bulkhead lighter and easier to handle.
The four middle pieces are 8 feet long and weigh about 120 pounds. The two end pieces are 12 feet long, because 4-foot wings are bolted to the concrete deck of the pool to hold the bulkhead in place. These pieces weigh 170 pounds, and four people are needed to move them into place in the pool.
Each piece is floated into place and bolted to the others. Swimmers then go underwater and use U-clamps to secure the legs for more stability. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to install and 45 minutes to remove.
"It was very depressing to go away for every meet," said Aaron Thompson, coach of the Penguins team, which has members from age 6 to 18. "It does take a long time to put in and a long time to take out, but it is definitely worth it."