Santa brings island a brand new pool

The long wait is over.

After four failed levies dating back to 1993 and a successful fifth in 1999, the new, $5.5 million Don Nakata Memorial Pool made its “informal” debut Wednesday.

“This is amazing,” said Doug Smith, walking through the building with his daughter Olivia, as several seniors relaxed in the spa after completing their laps.

“What an asset to our community,” Smith said. “It’s so first-class, just one more thing that makes Bainbridge such a desirable place to live.”

Though a few minor touchup details remain to be completed, and fundraising efforts to cover the cost of pool perks continue, the facility is ready to go.

The patron entrance has already shifted there, while renovation of the old locker room at the Ray Williamson Pool next door is under way.

Work on both pools is expected to be completed in time for a more formal opening of the Nakata Pool planned for Jan. 12.

Dedication ceremonies will begin at noon on that day, with an hour-long party including a brass band and free open swim at 1 p.m.

The most obvious difference between the two pools is the sheer magnitude of the Nakata facility, and the brightness of its lighting. Particularly in the shallow end, the almost sun-like brilliance confers a tropical blue hue to the water.

In addition, the rolled edges – which put the water at the same level as the deck – create something of an optical illusion, blurring the distinction between the pool and its surroundings and making it appear even larger.

“It’s a nice pool,” said Julie Pendleton, age 11. “It’s a lot safer than the old one. It’s nice to have the ramp for disabled people.”

When both pools are open, lap and open swims will be held simultaneously.

“Everyone in the family can come at the same time,” said John DeMeyer, aquatics director for the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District. “Mom and dad can do their laps, while the kids play.”

DeMeyer suggested another scenario. Serious swimmers will be able to loosen up in the slightly warmer waters of the new pool, step through glass doors and do their serious workout in the old pool, then relax afterward in the spa.

Those accustomed to the cramped confines of locker rooms at the old pool should appreciate the much roomier space, about three times the size of its predecessor.

Separate restrooms include a spacious counter with two sinks and a large mirror. The new shower heads generate many times the force of the old ones, which often seemed like squirt guns.

Up a lazy river

Among the new pool’s first users Wednesday was Marilyn Belieu, a longtime kids’ swim instructor.

Belieu was putting a pair of energetic

3-year-olds, Cassie and Peter, through their paces in the tot areas.

“This is a great little place for them,” she said. “The water is just waist-high on them, so they can stand up. It gives them a feeling of security, so they can let loose and relax.”

“I love it,” agreed Jane Swanson, Bainbridge Island Swim Club coach. “It’ll be fun for everybody. There are all kinds of new things we get to do.”

Not the least of these is swimming against the current in the “lazy river,” a winding area with underwater jets that propel swimmers in a counter-clockwise direction.

“It’s fun to swim with the current,” said Hannah Basile, age 10. “And it’s really hard to swim against it.”

“It’s a cool place,” agreed Sarah Minson, age 11. “I really like the lazy river.”

That feature was also the hit of the facility’s first open house on Wednesday evening, an event that attracted more than 160 patrons without benefit of publicity.

“The lazy river was far more popular than we imagined,” DeMeyer said. “It seemed like some of the kids stayed in there for the full 90 minutes that we were open.”

DeMeyer said the pool may require a bigger staff than planned.

“We needed two lifeguards at the lazy river alone,” he said. “Their heads were constantly going back and forth.”

The one feature that visitors couldn’t try out Wednesday was the water slide. Hours of trials with crash test dummies – followed by live volunteers – fine-tuned amount of water needed for a swift ride through the 183-foot chute, without users being swept into the grate at the end of the run-out.

But by mid-week, an inspector from the state Department of Health hadn’t shown up for final sign-off. Barring his unexpected appearance Friday, the slide won’t be open until at least Wednesday.

Also, several other amenities – the sauna, steam room and ozonator – won’t be installed until an additional $95,000 is raised.

The district is selling engraved paver – which DeMeyer called “an excellent stocking stuffer” – which will surround the main entrance.

The smaller pavers have room for two lines and cost $150, while three-line bricks are $200. For information, call 842-2302.

Wednesday, though, most thoughts were on the sparkling facility at hand.

Hannah Basile, an infant when the first efforts to build the pool began, was asked if it was worth the wait.

A huge smile spread across her face: “Yeah!”

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