Just in Time for Heat Wave, New Pool Facility Opens in Tenleytown Area

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009

As temperatures rose above 90 degrees, three families had the kids' pool at the cavernous Wilson Aquatic Center to themselves just after noon Sunday.

District officials hope that the $34.7 million facility, which the mayor opened Thursday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, won't stay secret for long. Swimming lessons and master's practices officially begin Monday.

A short walk from the Tenleytown-AU Metro station in Northwest, the 54,765-square-foot facility has four indoor pools that are open year-round. It's free for District residents, and nonresidents can purchase daily and monthly passes.

There is a 50-meter racing pool, where the Wilson High School swim team will practice, that includes bleachers for spectators. On Sunday, a man swimming laps had eight lanes to himself.

The pool for children -- with a sloped, beachlike entry -- has buckets that fill up and dump on youngsters who stand below. The leisure pool is warmer than the others so that toddlers learning to swim won't squirm as much when they jump in.

Feseha Woldu, 50, of the District, brought along his two sons and expects to use the facility two or three times each week.

"It's a great addition to the quality of life in D.C.," Woldu said as his 5-year-old son, Hennok, frolicked in the three-foot-high spray fountain.

For adults, there's a whirlpool. Bill Ragan, 82, had a stroke five years ago but loves to get in the water as much as he can. He praised the new facility for being wheelchair-friendly and having ample changing room space.

"We've watched this thing get built," said Ragan, who lives a few blocks away, as he sat in the whirlpool next to his wife.

Employees hope to attract whirlpool users like Ragan and athletes training for meets. The facility offers water aerobics, scuba diving lessons and lifeguard training.

"They had everyone in the community in mind when they designed this," said facility manager Cecilia Washington. An old pool facility on the Wilson High School campus that had opened in 1978 was demolished as part of the project.

Natalia Pane, 39, lives in the Woodley Park area with her two daughters. She has been paying the neighborhood rate to use the hotel pool at the nearby Marriott Wardman Park, but she now plans to use the free facility instead.

"We just went to a water park last weekend, and this is just as good," Pane said. "Now please just say, 'D.C. has done the planning and has the resources to maintain it.' "

Ximena Hartsock, the acting director of the District's Department of Parks and Recreation, which will manage daily operations, said that in the past, some new facilities were not well maintained but that the city will perform the necessary upkeep.

As of Sunday, the chlorine odor still had not overpowered that new construction smell.

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