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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Airway Heights’ first rec center grand opening is a big splash

The aquatic center at the new Airway Heights Parks & Recreation Center, photographed on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The aquatic center at the new Airway Heights Parks & Recreation Center, photographed on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The Airway Heights Parks and Recreation Center held its grand opening last weekend, attracting crowds of people checking out the pool, fitness equipment and peaceful outdoor patio.

Nearly everyone who walked in the front door immediately turned to the right to gaze through the large windows overlooking the pool area, which boasts a lap pool, sauna, therapy pool, hot tub and zero-entry children’s pool with play features and a lazy river. Lifeguards stood watch as children splashed and played and adults swam laps.

With the opening of the facility, Airway Heights becomes the only local municipality to own an indoor swimming facility. The city of Spokane previously operated an indoor pool at its Shadle Park aquatic center, which was closed in 2007 and demolished to make way for an addition at the adjacent high school.

“It’s not anything that’s come up with any real weight in the last couple of years,” said Fianna Dickson, the parks department spokeswoman, about the potential of bringing indoor swimming back to Spokane.

It was paid for by a $13 million bond measure approved by voters in 2016 and $700,000 from the state, plus an additional $500,000 from the park department’s reserves. The site is 70 acres and will include several multisport fields, a softball field, a basketball court and a covered picnic area.

The first floor of the two-story building includes a gym, a banquet room that can be rented out, a gym that can be divided into two and locker rooms. An outdoor patio is attached to the banquet room – its tall wooden walls decorated with hanging flower baskets that provide a cozy atmosphere for people sitting at the tables.

The second floor has a 4,100-square-foot weight room, a 30-foot cross- training rig and another 4,100 square feet of cardio equipment. Some of the equipment has QR codes on it that people can scan with their cellphones to pull up instructional videos on how to use the equipment.

An aquatics facility was originally part of a 2007 bond question considered by city officials to update Spokane’s aquatic offerings. The Spokane Park Board voted to remove construction of an estimated $26.7 million facility from the request before it was sent to voters, much to the chagrin of natatorium enthusiasts who believed the city should have an option for indoor swimming during the cold fall and winter months.

Two years later, the YMCA and YWCA opened their facility on Monroe Street, offering indoor swimming to members and guests in a centrally-located facility near downtown.

Mike Stone, head of the Spokane Valley Parks Department, led the same department in Spokane during discussion of the indoor facility in Spokane in 2007. He said Spokane Valley park officials will visit the new Airway Heights facility to determine the feasibility of a similar building within their city limits.

“It’s always been an interesting question in this area,” Stone said. “Aquatics facilities are so expensive to maintain and operate.”

Both Spokane and Spokane Valley will ask residents in the coming months to weigh in on park plans for the future, which could include feedback on indoor swimming facilities, Dickson and Stone said.

Airway Heights was successful in convincing voters that an aquatics facility was a good investment at the ballot box in 2016, but a similar measure put to Liberty Lake voters was defeated that same year.

There hasn’t been any renewed effort to build a facility in Liberty Lake since the defeat of that bond question in 2016, which garnered 56 percent of the vote but needed 60 percent to pass, said RJ Stevenson, director of finance for Liberty Lake.

“The budget has really been focused more on transportation,” Stevenson said.

But ballot results do indicate appetite for such a facility in the town of roughly 10,000. When voters were approached with a different bond question in 2017 to develop a community center on the same piece of property without an aquatics facility, it suffered an even larger defeat, earning just 38 percent of the vote.

Visitors to the new Airway Heights facility last week seemed happy with the investment.

Debbie Stapleton was one of the many people who took a guided tour of the facility, which she said she had been eagerly awaiting. She belonged to Airway Heights Fitness before it closed. “I’m going all the way to Medical Lake now for a gym,” she said.

Stapleton said she planned to buy a membership and really liked the pool and sauna – “all the things for relaxation after you work out.”

She said she’s happy to have a quality fitness opportunity close to home. “Anything that offers this much, you have to go to the YMCA,” she said. “This is very welcome.”

Her daughter, Courtney Stapleton, went on the tour as well. “I like it,” she said. “It’s got a little bit of everything, which is nice.”

One of the big draws for her was the child care area, which is free for members. One of her workout partners has a young son and arranging child care for him has been complicated, she said.

“It will just make it easier to work out, to know he’s taken care of,” she said.

Linda Ramsey signed up as a member as quickly as she could and on Saturday she sat pedaling a stationary bike.

“We attended some of the meetings way back when it was first discussed,” Ramsey said. “It’s kind of exciting to see it come to life.”

Her mother, 81-year-old Cricket LaPoint, sat on a nearby bicycle, but she was focused on reading a book on her iPad rather than pedaling. Ramsey said her mother suffers from arthritis.

“We’re going to get her into the pool,” she said. “It’ll be good for her.”

Ramsey said she plans to use the facility at least three times a week. “This is awesome,” she said.

Hundreds of people began signing up for memberships as soon as the doors opened, said Parks and Recreation Department Director J.C. Kennedy. “The last four days have just been a pretty steady flow,” he said.

The Parks’ Deputy Director Andy Gardner said the facility doesn’t look impressive on the outside but it has all the bells and whistles inside.

“Anybody who comes and sees it, it’s wow,” he said. “The patio has been a huge wow. Up here we had an opportunity to do something great.”

Kennedy said he expects the Rec Center Drop-In program to be popular. It’s a continuation of an after-school program the Parks Department previously offered, but there’s more included now that the program will be at the rec center.

Children in grades 3-7 who sign up will be picked up after school at Sunset Elementary and brought to the center. There will be video games, board games, foosball, basketball, a pool table, arts and crafts and homework help available. Children can either be picked up at the center or they will be bused to the Airway Heights Library at 5:30 p.m. for pickup.

The program is free and doesn’t require a membership because it will be held in the center’s community living room that is open to all. “I think that program is going to get a lot bigger,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he’s pleased with the completed center. The goal was to position the facility to be successful, he said.

“I think we did,” he said. “I feel good about how things turned out.”

Staff writer Kip Hill contributed to this report.

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