The Vashon Pool opens for its early summer season May 24 after five months under its new dome, which created winter and spring swimming possibilities for the Seals Swim Team and community members.
The Vashon Park District operates the facility, and last week Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said the dome season went “phenomenally well.” She projected pool expenses to be approximately $57,000 against a budget of $54,000. As she has before, she credited the Seals, who were the force behind the dome effort, for the successful season.
“The year-round pool with the dome is a great example of what can come of a community group’s passion and efforts to spearhead a project from start to finish. It was the Seals Swim Team’s vision, plan, fundraising, organization and hours of hard work that made this a success. And what a great gift for the whole community to enjoy,” she said in a recent email.
While the pool’s expenses were $3,000 over budget, Ott-Rocheford called that amount “pretty negligible” and attributed it largely to start-up problems recruiting lifeguards. She predicted greater efficiency next season.
The pool opened to the public in January, after members of the Seals Swim Team spent thousands of hours over two years preparing the dome proposal for the park district board, working to get the park board to pass it and then installing the inflatable dome themselves. Seal parents added several more hours to that total recently, as they worked to clean and remove the dome, preparing the pool for the summer season. They also spoke positively of the dome’s effects on the club. Taking a break from a swim meet on Sunday, Coach Randy Turner said that the team has grown from 48 members last year to 78 members this year.
“It is all because of the dome,” he said.
About eight members have joined the competitive swimmers; approximately a dozen are taking part in the new non-competitive Swim Fit program for middle and high school students, and others have joined the Seal Pups, a new program for 4 to 5 year olds, Turner said.
Race times have also improved this winter and spring.
“We are holding at about 75 percent best times every time we are in the pool,” he said, noting the pool’s longer length and starting blocks. “We can actually practice races now.”
Another benefit, he added, is that both older and younger kids can practice at the same time, something that had not been possible before, and has led to increased team unity.
Since February, Ann White has been working as the district’s aquatics manager. White has a background in competitive swimming, education and accounting, and said she took the position because she is passionate about the pool. She said she has been attentive to payroll and staffing, and it has paid off after the initial period when there were not enough guards, resulting in overtime and higher personnel costs.
Now, plans are in place for summer, with between 15 and 18 lifeguards and two experienced head guards designated for both summer and fall. Changes ahead include the addition of Sunday hours and a slight adjustment to the time of swimming lessons: They will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. this summer. The free Swim for All program, which was created last year for islanders who cannot swim and may not feel comfortable in traditional group swim lessons, will be folded into the regular swimming lesson time slot, White said.
She stressed that scholarships are available for swimming lessons and pool passes; people who are interested should contact Ott-Rocheford at the park district.
In recent months, VARSA has sponsored family and teen swim nights, which were popular, drawing 94 swimmers to one and 88 to another. The next pool party is scheduled for June 1 with the entry free reduced to $5. White said she hopes to offer more free and reduced swims in the future.
A kayak clinic with Vashon Adventures was also successful, White said, and plans are in place for more clinics.
While the park district operates the pool, it is on Vashon School District property, and White said she is working on creating programming with the schools. She and Chautauqua teacher Amy Bogaard are planning on offering swimming lessons for third graders next year as part of physical education classes. Additionally, White said she is in talks with Vashon High School Principal Danny Rock and Athletic Director Andy Sears to create a swim program with the high school, funded through donations.
“Big picture — I would like to help create an island where all kids learn to swim by 8 and all high school seniors swim 50 yards to graduate,” she said.
None of these plans and dreams, however, would be possible without the dome — going up and coming down every six months — with the manual labor provided by the Vashon Seals and other pool supporters. The amount of work involved was evident last Thursday through Sunday, when the pool was a hive of activity. While the bubble itself deflates quickly, taking it off the pool is another matter.
Crews pressure washed inside the pool area on Thursday and the full exterior of the dome on Friday. On Sunday, nearly 30 people gathered at the pool to take the 2,000-pound cover off and ship it back to the California manufacturer to repair a defect, according to Bruce Jackson, who spearheaded the effort. Mostly, it was Seal parents who were there for the large task, but John Thorn, who teaches at Crossfit Vashon, was there to lend some muscle as well, along with a handful of people who train with him. Some of the Seals — parents, swimmers and a coach — train with Thorn, who said he was happy to participate.
“I love the outdoor pool and the community they have got here,” he said, taking a quick break. “I wanted to help any way I could.”
Memorial Day weekend is just ahead, the unofficial start to summer. The pool will be ready and will remain open daily until October, when it will close for a few days for the dome to go back up for six months.
White says she is ready, too: “I am looking forward to a robust summer with a healthy retention of patrons into the fall.”