From Condemned Pool to Award-Winning Regional Aquatics Center

November 30, 2023, Department, by Dennis Berkshire

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In 2008, the only aquatics center in El Centro — a city located approximately 90 miles south of Palm Springs in Imperial County, California — closed due to maintenance and repair issues. In 2010, an earthquake caused further damage, rendering the facility permanently closed. The city then partnered with Aquatic Design Group to create a feasibility study and master plan for a new aquatics center that would provide a year-round aquatics experience to Imperial County.

City leadership and staff from the design firm toured several Southern California aquatics centers and met with a wide range of stakeholders, including the local school district, YMCA, higher-education institutions, USA swim team and other local businesses, to establish the goals of the project. However, the process faced multiple challenges, including limited land space and through-traffic, as well as community members facing homelessness who sought shelter on the site.

To overcome these challenges, city staff worked closely with the design firm and the community to develop creative solutions that would elicit a community-positive end result. A pass-through street was closed to facilitate the construction of the new park, and a bilingual community outreach effort was employed to ensure the new aquatics center would meet the needs of all members of the community. Input from individuals at the senior living center located across the street also was invaluable, helping to make sure the facility could serve patrons of every age, ethnicity and background.

The Result

El Centro now boasts an award-winning facility that offers an eight-lane, 25-yard competition pool, a circular interactive children’s/recreational pool with 12 unique interactive water-play features, an instructional and fitness pool, a lazy river, support buildings, and space for a future water slide adjacent to the lazy river. With more than 13,500 square feet of water of various depths and temperatures, the aquatics center offers a wide array of aquatics programming to meet the present and future needs of any El Centro and Imperial County regional resident.

With the size, location, and variety of swimming and recreational water activities the center can offer, the aquatics center is used for family fun, swim competitions and training, therapeutic activities, lifeguard training, border patrol and sheriff training, and other events. To further meet the diverse needs of area residents, the City of El Centro has developed a cost structure for using the aquatics center on a variety of levels, including individual day use, family rates, summer passes and annual membership, along with rates for private parties and events.

The El Centro Aquatic Center is not only a recreational asset, but also an economic one. The center currently employs 24 lifeguard and swim instructors between the ages of 16 and 25. Additionally, the City of El Centro has been a member of the American Red Cross Centennial Campaign since 2013. This partnership allows the city to grow its learn-to-swim program by offering swim lesson scholarships for children and adults.

Dennis Berkshire is President of Aquatic Design Group, Inc.