Water is a part of life for Bainbridge islanders.
So it is no wonder the indoor Aquatics Center on the island funded by the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District is so well-used. Under one roof, two heated pools and a hot tub create three separate, exclusive bodies of water — making it an ideal place for islanders to warm up year round.
“It’s a great activity for everybody and it’s always nice inside the facility. It’s always warm and tropical,” said Mark Benishek,recreation superintendent with the parks department. “It has some great, great features.”
Usually open daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the pool center staff welcomes various water sports organizations. During open pool times, non-competitive swimmers are invited to stop by for a leisurely dip.
However, there weren’t always so many water features, and it wasn’t always indoors.
The six-lane, 25-yard Ray Williamson Pool was originally built in 1970 as an outdoor pool. Seven years later, a roof was added to fully enclose the pool.
Then, in 2001, the Don Nakata Memorial Pool was added as a recreational pool for families to enjoy together, especially kids.
To decrease heating costs during the summer months, a solar water heating system was installed in 2012. A Hanovia UV system added the previous year increased water and air quality for swimmers.
Today, the pool is the home site for Bainbridge Island High School swimming, diving and water polo teams, plus the Bainbridge Island Swim Club and Bainbridge Aquatic Masters team.
A three-story, 180-foot water slide may just be one of the most popular features of the pool.
Additionally, a lazy river, tot pool and toddler frog slide add to the family friendly ambiance of the pool, said Benishek.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the pool is the three-meter diving board, which is open not only to competitive swimmers, but to the public. Benishek said it is one of only three in the state open to the public.
“The pool is packed all the time, which is exciting,” Benishek said. “They’re both heavily used. They’re usually packed. It’s great to see it being utilized.”
Other amenities inside the center includes a hot tub, wet and dry sauna, locker room, steam room and more.
Residents are often surprised by how many events go on at the pool hall, said Benishek.
Most recently, a large pool party bash during Memorial Day weekend brought in droves of visitors drawn in by a 50-cent admission fee.
By far, one of the most popular events is Float & Float, where families are invited to use the beach area, hot tub, tot pool and lazy river areas while watching a newly released family friendly movie.
Staff turn down the lights, inflate inner tubes and serve root beer floats for swimmers to enjoy while in the water watching a movie. The cost is $6 per person, and it usually is a sold-out event for up to 180 guests.
Family game nights are also open-swim events catered to all ages. For $6, anyone can stop in to enjoy a variety of water games for a few hours.
“Battleship” is a favorite for adventurous water lovers, Benishek said. Aquatics staff place canoes in the pool for two teams to square off in a battle. Armed with buckets, team members work together to sink the other team’s “ship.”
“They have a really great time with that,” Benishek said of the game.
Not all swimmers enjoy a crowded venue, though. For those folks, the aquatics center staff encourages residents to rent all the pools for personal use.
Residents looking for some privacy for events are invited to rent the entire center for special events such as anniversary parties or birthday celebrations, Benishek noted. Various packages can be purchased and may include cake, ice cream, swim time and more, he said.
Even if all the pool activities aren’t enticing due to a fear of water, Benishek said there’s swim lessons to cure that, too. Swim lessons are available for residents of all ages and abilities, he said.
A free skills assessment will place nervous swimmers in the proper class to ensure a safe and fun environment to learn in. Littles ones start as early as six months, and some students are well into their 80s, Benishek said. The goal is always to get swimmers back in the water time and time again, he said.
“It’s really great to see,” he said. “Age is not a hindrance at all when it comes to our program.”