August 29, 2005 in City

Wringing the last drops of fun

By The Spokesman-Review

At Valley Mission Pool today, they’re pulling the plug on summer, pulling the plug on the shrill cacophony of cannonballers and girls who scream at the thought of getting wet, pulling the plug on lifeguard crushes and hooligans hopping the fence at midnight for unauthorized dips.

Technician Darren Hoffman will turn the drain valves open and 126,000 gallons of chlorine green water will press though a box sock of crushed up seashells used to trap all traces of humanity. Then, the slurry washes westward down a sewer pipe and, eventually, to the Spokane River.

“It’ll probably take six hours to drain,” Hoffman said. All those summer experiences down the drain before East Valley children take their seats Tuesday morning for the new school year.

They’re not much to look at, but the 45-foot by 75-foot Spokane Valley pools are special. Built 35 years ago, they represent a time when local government didn’t bristle like a wet cat when it came to big community projects; it took the plunge. Sure, there have been parks built since, but not so many at once and not in spite of voter unwillingness to shoulder the extra tax burden.

Spokane County had two pools built in 1969, the Terrace View Pool and the Park Road Pool. They went through with the projects despite failing to sell voters on a bond issue for community projects the previous fall. The government needed another 10 percent of the vote to get the money it needed, but managed to pay for the projects through smaller general obligation bonds. The next year, the county built two more pools, Valley Mission and Holmberg Pool, located northwest of the Y on the opposite end of the Spokane city limits. Combined, the four pools cost less than $350,000, but then again, homes were five-figure items, not six, and the price of gas was chump change.

Spokane Valley kids were in desperate need for a place to swim at the time the pools were built. The only public pool was at West Valley Junior High and it was being filled in; the school was being torn down to make way for retail space at Trent Avenue and Argonne Road.

Because the county took the fiscal plunge, girls like 12-year-old Teona Wood have been coming to the pool every day of summer, to swim laps or just check out boys. There are always boys at the pool you’ve never even met, Wood said last week. Some of them are even worth the $1 price of admission.

The pool is where lifeguard Alex Pederson, in between turns on the shadeless observation perch, brings rowdy middle-schoolers into line by making them do pushups. When there’s no action, Pederson strums a guitar in the acoustically challenged cinderblock pool shack, where the cool vapors of chlorinated water emanate from dozens of damp towels stuffed into dozens of hanging mesh storage bags. Summer doesn’t get much better than this. In a drawer, the lifeguards keep gifts from pool patrons – nothing big, just thank-you cards and the like.

There’s a sadness on the day it all ends, when the pool closes for good. Greg Bertsch, the 19-year-old manager of Valley Mission, remembers his first year as a lifeguard at the pool when at the last minute of the last day, all the lifeguards who hadn’t gone off to college circled the pool with their whistles between their lips.

“We blew an end to the last session,” Bertsch said, “every whistle at once. There was this ‘whoosh’ that startled some of the kids. It was so loud.”

And then, it was so quiet. All the benches were brought into the pool shack, along with the floating rope separating the deep end from the shallow one. The kids went home and the doors were closed. And all that separated summer from fall, was a box of crushed up seashells and a 6-inch drainpipe.

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