At long last, Snohomish Aquatic Center ready to open

SNOHOMISH — The smell of saline signals success for those set to see their vision for the Snohomish Aquatic Center come to fruition this weekend.

The swimming complex on Maple Avenue is scheduled to hold its long-awaited grand opening Saturday. In preparation, the water was treated with more than 10 tons of salt to produce a natural chlorine. The gentle saline process eliminates the typical eye-burning sensation associated with indoor pools.

For the first time Sunday, the 52,000-square-foot center’s recreational and competitive pools are expected to open to the public.

“I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes,” said Bill Fulton, a design committee volunteer, after recently watching the first swimmers test the water. “This is going to be something for the community.”

Snohomish School District representatives, city officials and the community started work on the center in 2007, when the Hal Moe Memorial Pool closed.

Volunteer Bruce Richards, a former Snohomish swim coach, traveled the country scoping ideas and bringing back the best ones.

“You want to get it right,” said Richards, an engineer and former competitive swimmer at Michigan State University. “A lot of things you’d never notice unless we got them wrong.”

One specialty he returned with was installing two separate ventilation systems, one for swimmers and another for spectators. That way, people aren’t sweating on the sidelines while watching swimmers.

Another system produces natural chlorine from salt water to keep the pools clean. The saline process also improves air quality, eliminating the typical eye-burning sensation associated with an indoor pool.

The swim center features two sides divided by a glass wall. One houses a recreational pool and includes a hot tub, a lazy river, a spray-play area, a wave rider and a waterslide. That side supports a variety of uses, such as swimming lessons, water fitness and zero-entry play.

The other side is reserved for competitive swimming, team practices and competitive events.

When the Hal Moe pool closed because of structural issues too costly to repair, it displaced the high school swim teams. Coach Rob Serviss said he has lost a handful of competitors each year because the team had to drive out of town for practice. For the first time last week, the teams practiced in the new pool.

“People were crying, myself included,” Serviss said. “It got to everybody because they’ve been homeless for a long time. Now, not only do they have a home — it’s a state-of-the-art home.”

Money from the school district’s 2008 capital projects bond funded the construction, estimated to cost $22.2 million.

The city of Snohomish is paying the water and sewer costs. In return, anyone who pays for those city services will receive a 20 percent discount on three-month and annual pool passes.

Fulton, an accountant, said he is determined to secure financial stability for the center. With many school district pools shutting down due to high costs, designers added the water park-like features to generate revenue.

“We’re working diligently to protect the taxpayers’ money through effective management,” Fulton said.

YMCA of Snohomish County has been partnering with the school district to prepare for the opening since the building’s completion in December.

Now the district will assume full management responsibility under the leadership of Chris Bensen, the aquatic center’s new director.

Bensen moved from Long Island, N.Y., for the job. She’d never heard of Snohomish before she applied.

The lifelong swimmer said the gig is a dream job because she gets to participate a wide variety of aquatics activities.

“It’s just like being in a water park,” Bensen said. “I call it the happiest place on earth.”

The facility is expected to last at least 50 years.

“Things like this happen because of the passion of the people in the community,” Richards said. “Not many small towns support their community the way Snohomish has.”

He said he and the others worked so hard on the project in order to show young people what it means to give back.

Kristin Foley, the school district spokeswoman, credits Richards and Fulton as well as Jodi Judd, Rick Pedack, Betsy Wygant and others for bringing the center to its opening day.

“They made this come true,” Foley said. “It’s a dream.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

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