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Spokane swimmers, start your cannonballs

Lifeguards gear up for Monday’s opening of two of city’s six new pools

As a kid, James Browning was disappointed he couldn’t use the broken slide at Spokane’s Witter Pool. More than a decade later, as a lifeguard, he heard constant gripes about the still-unfixed slide.

But Monday, when he helps open the first two of six new city pools as Shadle Pool’s assistant manager, broken slides will be replaced by two-story-high tubes with intense curves, water playgrounds, gradual entries, fountains and tanks for lap swimmers.

With only A.M. Cannon and Shadle ready to open, park officials expect big crowds. The pools will open at noon.

“We’re just going to be on our toes a little more,” Browning said, on a break from lifeguard training Wednesday.

In the past few years, Spokane’s pools had become notorious for breakdowns. But voters in 2007 approved a $43 million park bond, most of which is devoted to replacing the pools.

“Zip ties and duct tape were an everyday occurrence,” said Holly Tormey, who managed Hillyard Pool last year and will oversee Shadle Pool this summer. The returning lifeguards “are just in awe, because we just can’t believe what we’ve got.”

The pools are opening later than the ambitious date set last year by park board members, who hoped to have all the aquatic centers open for summer. A super-snowy winter caused delays.

The two pools that will open Monday each cost about $3.5 million. Everything – the bath houses, the filtration systems, the tanks – is new. Three of the pools that will open later this summer – Hillyard, Liberty and Comstock – will have remodeled bath houses.

Park leaders worked with neighborhood groups to design the pools. West Central residents, for instance, didn’t want a diving board. Instead, Cannon Pool has more splash features.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cannon Pool on Wednesday, Brenda Corbett, chairwoman of the West Central Neighborhood Council, waded into the shallow section. “I find we got everything we wanted and asked for and a little bit more,” Corbett said.

Last year, each pool had four or five lifeguards working at a time, city Aquatics Supervisor Carl Strong said. This summer, pools will have six or seven on duty and more at first.

“We have never seen kids in here. It’s hard to visualize it,” Strong said of the Cannon Pool. “The first two weeks we’re overstaffing just to be safe.”