A "great waiting game" ended Wednesday as excited officials, residents and project volunteers came together to commemorate the grand opening of the Albany Aquatic Center.
Albany Unified School District Superintendent Marla Stephenson said the process had been complicated, as was the project, due to extensive community input, a turbulent economy and tough decisions about how to get "as many things as we could" with the $10 million budget.
"It took us four years to get here, but it was four years well spent," said Stephenson, after describing the process as "the great waiting game."
In his public remarks, former school board member Charlie Blanchard, who played a central role in pool planning, said the project underwent many changes over the years.
"This is a different project than anybody envisioned in 2007-2008... but it's a better project," he said.
Blanchard said the aquatic center, ultimately, was "more than a pool project," bringing with it a new indoor lunch service area for students, three new classrooms and the outdoor competition and lap-swimming facility.
Some 80 to 100 people attended the opening ceremony, including school board members past and present, City Manager Beth Pollard, Police Chief Mike McQuiston and members of the City Council.
Aquatic Center Director Amanda Garcia led a tour following remarks by Stephenson, Blanchard and school board President Paul Black.
Garcia pointed out photographs of the old Albany Pool in the entryway; the images were donated by former pool director Peggy McQuaid.
"Take a look at them," said Garcia. "You might see yourself."
"I hope not!" quipped one member of the tour.
Garcia pointed out the 2.5- to 7-foot deep indoor pool, at 85 degrees, then led the group past the locker rooms and outside, where the swim team was practicing in several of the lap pool's 10 lanes.
"It should be a fast pool, so we should have some records being broken here," Garcia said. She added that the Aquatic Center is the only school pool in the area that boasts a Colorado timing system, which uses touch pads in the pool to keep time for swimmers.
Some hopeful pool users asked about storage space for their stuff, eyeing a somewhat untidy pile of student backpacks and other belongings on the concrete ground near the outdoor pool.
Garcia said lockers are available for day-use, and that hooks would be installed in the locker rooms for people to hang up their belongings.
Another planned improvement includes portable bleachers for the north- and southwest corners of the outdoor pool, she said.
Albany Teachers Association President, and Albany High teacher, David DeHart said teachers had been "putting up with a lot of noise (with the project)... but ultimately it was for the community."
He added that teachers are happy with the new modular classrooms along the north side of the pool.
"Everybody is enjoying them. Some like them better than regular classrooms," he said.
Officials said during the opening ceremony that district teachers would be able to continue to enjoy lap swim for free, a perk DeHart said had a long history with the Albany Pool.
Some members of the festivities wandered into the pool's electrical area, and marveled at the cogen unit that would help heat the pool efficiently, along with its other mechanical equipment.
Among them was David Arkin, a member of the city's Planning & Zoning Commission. Arkin said he was excited to have "such a well-designed facility" in Albany: "It fits its context, as a piece of the high school. Yet it stands alone as a much better building" than the prior facility. LPA designed the facility.
(Arkin also had been a member of the Pool Sustainability Committee, which was charged with ensuring that decisions related to the pool made both economic and environmental sense.)
Complete pool programming will begin Monday, said Director Garcia. (See all the details here on the Aquatic Center website.)
She said some of the classes already have waiting lists, and others are showing a healthy number of sign-ups.
Former Albany High graduate (class of 1974), and current Albany resident, Frank Gonsalves summed it up.
"I'm excited that the pool's gonna open back up again," he said. As a contractor, he added, he'll be keeping an eye on the details such as whether rust develops or if too much condensation seems to be building up. "I'm hoping everything flies... I'm thinking this is gonna be a smooth run."
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