Outer East Portland’s new Aquatic Center prepped for splashy February opening

Outgoing Portland Mayor Tom Potter didn’t get to take a dip, but come along on the sneak preview Portland Parks officials arranged him at the East Portland Community Center Aquatic Center …

Outgoing Portland Mayor Tom Potter is all smiles as he starts his tour of the soon-to-be-opened East Portland Community Center Aquatic Center.  The shark in the background is actually a little kid’s water slide.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Snow was blowing sideways when Mayor Tom Potter visited the East Portland Community Center Aquatic Center on December 19.

It wasn’t the celebration that Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) planned for neighbors and community leaders – but, because he was down to his last few days in office, they wanted to make sure Potter got a special sneak preview of the facility they said he helped to build.

Mayor Potter, PP&R project manager Richard Bosch, and PP&R’s director Zari Santner together tour the new East Portland natatorium.

Complete, after ten years
PP&R project manager Richard Bosch recounted the history of the soon-to-be-opened pool addition, as he and other officials walked Potter around the recently-completed section of the Community Center.

“The East Portland Community Center was completed in 1998,” Bosch began. “At that time, we had intended – we’d hoped – to build a swimming pool. In fact, a swimming pool design had been already committed to a schematic drawing.”

However, plans for the pool dried up when the Parks’ bond measure failed in 1998. And, the pool was again put off when a levy measure failed in May of 2002.

But, when the Parks bond measure was approved in November of 2002, the bureau dove into the project and started construction a year ago, Bosch said.

“We did not expect the prices of steel and concrete would go up so high,” PP&R’s director Zari Santner chimed in. “It was then we started to realize that we didn’t have enough money to complete the project. We’re grateful that the City Council authorized the funding to finish it.”

Even the wide-angle lens doesn’t fully capture the massive size of the new Aquatic Center.

Family-friendly features
As we walked into the 15,000 square foot “natatorium” (from the Latin cella natatoria, translating to “a swimming pool in its own building”), Abbe MacFarlane, the center’s director, pointed out the five family changing areas that are provided, in addition to men’s and women’s locker rooms. “These solve the changing-room problem that arises when a mother brings her sons, or a father brings his daughters, to enjoy the pool.”

This Aquatic Center isn’t simply one huge pool – it’s divided into two primary areas.

On the south end is a 2,886 square foot, 90,000 gallon, lap pool. To the north is the 4,500 square foot, 120,000 gallon, leisure pool.

Amenities in the leisure pool include a:

  • 136 foot long water slide,
  • 118 foot long “Current Channel”,
  • Vortex whirlpool, 14′ diameter,
  • Little Tot Slide (it’s the “Shark” in the pool’s northwest corner),
  • Fireflies, and crown jets, and
  • Hydrotherapy Bench

The east section of the leisure pool features the giant water slide (in the background) as well as the Vortex and Current Channel.

We asked Eric Ridenour from SERA Architects to describe the Current Channel and Vortex features in the leisure pool.

“These are the two concentric circles south of the water slide,” Ridenour pointed out. “The water swirls rapidly in the center Vortex; and then slows down to about five miles per hour in the Current Channel. One can float on the water and ride with the current, but it was primarily designed for people to walk against the current for exercise and to get physical therapy benefits.”

On such a cold, winter’s day, the 2,000 square foot hot-tub Spa looked inviting. About 17 people can enjoy the hot tub, Ridenour said.

Want to swim laps? A separate pool allows serious swimmers to exercise without having to dodge those who come to the pool for pleasure.

Accommodates all levels of ability
In the northwest corner, in the youngsters’ swimming area, is an unusual feature for a public pool – a ramp that gradually goes down from the side, through the top surface of the water, and down into the depths of the pool.

In both the leisure and lap pools, power-lift seats can be raised to the level of a wheelchair, which can then lower disabled swimmers into the water.

For high-spirited splashers, there’s a giant waterslide – the towering, zig-zagging structure dominating the building. And, those wanting to exercise by swimming strokes can do so undisturbed in the five-lane lap pool.

PP&R project manager Richard Bosch explains to Portland’s outgoing mayor Tom Potter how the pumps and filters in the equipment room keep the water safe and flowing.

Hidden systems revealed
Lisa Petterson, also with SERA Architects, pointed out that even the natatorium’s air-handling system was designed and built with subtleties.

“We didn’t want air blowing across people who are standing in the wading pool since that would make them feel chilled,” Petterson explained. “And, we still needed to have sufficient air-handling capabilities to remove moisture-laden air containing the sanitizing chlorine vapors. It’s quite an engineering feat.”

In the equipment room, hidden away some distance from the pools, Petterson pointed out the high-power pumps that drive the Vortex, Current Channel, slide jets, and sanitizing tanks. The automated sanitizing equipment keeps just enough disinfectant in the water to keep it safe, without over-chlorinating the water.

Mayor Potter eyes the Hot Tub
As the tour was winding down, Potter smiled and nodded his approval of the project. “I think this is wonderful,” he told us. “And, I think it’s long overdue for the people of outer East Portland. I know this place is going to be well-used. Children will love it, adults will love it, and senior citizens will love it.”

“If you had your swimming suit on today, where would you go first?” we asked Potter.

“The Vortex and Current Channel look really interesting to me,” Potter replied. “To be able to walk against it or ride around in it looks fun. And, especially seeing the snow blowing outside, I think I would take a nice long relaxing sit in the hot tub!”

Potter says the East Portland Community Center’s new Aquatic Center is “everyone’s legacy”.

Considers the pool “Potter’s legacy”
We asked Potter if new facility could be considered his legacy in outer East Portland.

“I think it’s everyone’s legacy,” Potter replied graciously. “In a sense, it’s [Parks Bureau] Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s legacy – and all of the people who believed in it, and worked hard to see this concept become a reality.”

Santner countered, “If it weren’t for Mayor Tom Potter, and his leadership convincing other City Counselors to provide the funds to build this pool, we could not have built it the way we needed to do it. He made this project a priority. That’s why we wanted to make sure that he saw it completed before he left office.”

Potter smiled, looked down and responded, “It’s really the community’s legacy; they’re the ones who said this is what they wanted. It took us 10 years to get around to doing it. I think it’s going to be well-used and enjoyed for years to come.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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