Photo: Off the slide and into the pool.
Lorraine Benoit had spent 10 hours on the job at the new Underwood Pool, literally opening the doors for the first day of swimming at the new $5.3 million facility on Monday, Aug. 10.
On a sunny, warm summer day, hundreds of Belmont residents – there was no official number because the counter was left in the front desk because it was so busy – entered the fence to take a dip in the two pools, rest on the grass banking and even voluntarily venture into the two bath houses to change and take a shower.
“Everything is ready to go. I’m just hoping everything goes well,” said Benoit, the pool’s manager who has been working at Belmont pools since 1964.
For the early birds who came early, it was a chance to finally test the facilities which took nine months to build from ground breaking on a freezing cold November day.
“I’m here to swim laps,” said Jim Crawford, one of nearly two dozen residents – most of them pre-teens and younger – who waited patiently for the official opening at 9 a.m.
“I figured I’d swim first thing in the morning and rest for the rest of the day,” said Crawford.
Julie Campisano brought her six-and-a-half year of twins who didn’t have to travel very far to reach the pool; they live across Cottage Street from the facility.
“We saw it being built all winter and couldn’t wait for it to be open. It’s so exciting,” said Campisano.
With many town officials present, including Town Administrator David Kale, the DPW’s Director Jay Marcotte and Health Director Angela Braun, the kids and adults marched in and much like when someone has a new car, tentatively entered the water, seemingly not wanting to spoil the new-ness of the premises.
But soon children where washing out of the slide, jumping off the diving board while the adults took a more placid approach, taking photos of their children or hitting the designated lap area.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid and now I’m 73,” said Mary Turner, “from famous Waverley Square.”
Turner, whose children and grandchildren all learned to swim at the Underwood, said she appreciated the chance to do laps “since you really couldn’t do that in the old pool.”
By 2 p.m., the pool was nearing capacity as blankets covered the grass and the sound of kids and splashing could be heard from School Street to well down Concord Avenue. While the crowds diminished by afternoon, people were still arriving as shade settled across the entire location.
With the exception of the super slippery pool surface leading into the pools – especially noticeable in the “kiddie” pool when entering from the “zero entry” section – which required Department of Public Works employees to place bath and auto mats in the area, the “new Underwood” won a near universal thumbs up from residents.
“It’s been a great success, despite the little problem we’ve experienced,” said Anne Paulsen, chair of the Underwood Pool Building Committee, who stood drying off after test driving the facility. She said the slipping issue would be resolved after the pool is closed for the season when the contractor will apply a textured “sand” paint.
Just after 6 p.m., Benoit was preparing for the umpteenth “deep end test,” in which young swimmers demonstrate the swimming prowess required to allow them to leap off the diving board into 12 feet of water.
“It’s been fabulous today,” said Benoit, who praised the gaggle of lifeguards, many who had spent the entire day at the site.
“Everyone did a great job today,” she said as she drifted over to the next group of youngsters ready to brave the test.