Former Aldi’s in Niles converted into Big Blue swim school for children


The former Aldi’s grocery store near Milwaukee Avenue and Waukegan Road recently was converted into an indoor swimming school for children.

About 500 children have signed up for lessons at the Big Blue Swim School, 7428 N. Waukegan Road, Niles. The first lessons are scheduled to start in early January.

The company, founded by former college swimmers Chris DeJong and John Lonergan, also has locations in Wilmette and Buffalo Grove.

DeJong won several Big Ten Conference swimming titles at the University of Michigan and swam on a relay team that included Olympia champion Michael Phelps. Lonergan was a Big Ten all-academic swimmer at the University of Iowa.

The Niles project has been in the works for a year, including the purchase of the property and the construction of two 4-foot-deep pools in the 11,000-square-foot facility. The site became available after the Aldi’s closed its store there in 2015 and opened a new store at 6250 W. Touhy Ave.

The water temperature for the pools is maintained at 90 degrees to make for a comfortable experience for swimmers.

DeJong said that much of the company’s success is due to its development of an online registration program that is user friendly for parents and allows them to easily track the progress of their child. He said that the program offers flexibility in choosing days and times for lessons.

Some students take several months off and return to their swim lessons once their schedules free up, DeJong said. Accounts are automatically credited for a makeup lesson when a child does not show up, he said.

DeJong said that he and Lonergan developed a teaching philosophy that was based on their own experiences as swimmers and as parents.

New instructors must complete 100 hours of initial training that is based on the company’s proprietary curriculum, and there is an additional 200 hours of annual training. “We really see teaching as a career, not a part-time job,” DeJong said.

Lessons are often given in groups of three or four swimmers, and areas are set up for parents to watch the lessons, DeJong said.

The facility is not intended for recreational use. “We only do swimming lessons,” DeJong said.

Big Blue Swim School Opens in Niles