Chronicles. By Pam McCollum Clise
Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The cold waters of the Pacific Northwest have always found takers willing to swim short distances for a refreshing thrill. The luxury of swimming and playing for longer periods of time in slightly warmer water has been experienced in numerous lakes and shallow bays in East Jefferson County.
An alternative to the open water surfaced with plans to build an open-air saltwater swimming pool in summer 1936. The pool, located in Port Townsend would provide an opportunity for people from around East Jefferson County to have a place to swim at a reasonable temperature, plus the capacity for the more serious enthusiast to train for competition swim meets.
Rotary Club members spent months looking at project feasibility. Plans were drawn up and submitted to the public in August. The club needed $200 from the community to complete drawings to submit to the government Works Project Administration (WPA) for funding approval. When finished, it was planned that the pool would become part of the Port Townsend City Parks System.
A 60-foot-by-120-foot pool was proposed, along with a clubhouse and bathhouse. There had been talk of having a regulation –sized swimming pool in the area for several years prior to the 1936 proposal. Estimated cost for the project was set at $25,000, half of which needed to be raised by the community. Almost every member of the Rotary Club became involved and encouraged citizens and businesses to do the same.
The Port Townsend City Council agreed to sponsor the pool project in October 1936. Local municipal support was needed in order for the WPA to consider the project. The City Council made it clear that ultimate financial obligations for the pool would not be coming from city funds at that time. Public enthusiasm for the project was strong – and also required in order to submit plans to the WPA for approval.
For some unknown reason, the swimming pool plans were shelved for several months. They resurfaced in March 1937 and were submitted to the WPA, with approval or rejection expected within 30 days. The project failed to gain approval.
Swimming beaches, which had been popular previous to the 1936 pool plans, continued as usual. The military had taken over water and beach access at the Simcoe family property along Adelma Beach during World War II. After the war, the public swarmed back to its favorite beach site at the Simcoes’. The school recreation program provided swimming lessons at the popular beach, in the 52-degree water.
Post–war energy was rekindled into providing for a possible public swimming pool. Dr. Harry Plut, Russell Sheffer and Port Townsend Rotary Club picked up the banner to lead the effort once again. They were able to get a school district levy on the ballot in 1948. The measure passed with 80 percent of the public voting “yes,” and $32,000 was raised for pool construction. The pool was to be built next to the recreation center on Tyler Street in the uptown district. The state required special filters, heating systems and locker rooms. The money levied was not enough to proceed with the project so was put in escrow for future use.
Swim lessons continued to be held, first at Adelma Beach, then at Neville’s Beach just west of the Simcoe beach property at Discovery Bay. Nels “The Champ” Kjellin started teaching swim lessons at Adelms Beach as part of the “learn to swim” program offered by the public schools. He ran the classes along Discovery Bay for almost 20 years. In July 1954 there were 230 children registered for swim classes at Neville’s Beach.
Interest in building a swimming pool again resurfaced in 1963, when the junior high campus – now known as Mountain View Elementary – was being constructed and Gael Stuart was school superintendent. The Rotary Club and swimmers once more pushed for the project. The original funds had earned some interest over the years, providing enough to build an instructional pool at the new junior high. However, there was only enough money to build an “L”-shaped pool, not enough for a competition-sized pool. There was still not enough money to enclose the pool.
A swim program at the Linger Longer Lodge off Quilcene Bay taught 90 students in the cold waters of Hood Canal just before the official opening of the public pool. The swimming pool finally received its first crowd of swimmers on Saturday, Aug. 31, 1963. Locker and shower rooms were scheduled as part of the final construction of the junior high and would be incorporated for pool use.
A roof over the pool was in the works by 1966. It was proposed to be completed along with a gymnasium, a lunchroom, music room and additional classrooms financed by a special bond.
Dedication ceremonies for the completed, roofed pool took place on Memorial Day 1967. Principal George Earl was master of ceremonies and spoke before a capacity crowd. The pool was dedicated in honor of Marvin Shields, John Paddock and Timothy McManhon, Jefferson County residents who died during military service in the Vietnam War.
Competitive swim teams were formed in 1970 under the enthusiastic work of Mary McQuillen. Mary encouraged parents to get involved, and a swim team program was established for the kids. Along with Larry Royce, an early swim coach for the pool, parents became part of a team transporting kids to meets, clocking them in practice, keeping statistics, and encouraging them at every turn. Nels Kjellin was active in the program as well. The swim teams worked hard and accomplished amazing wins in the 1970’s.
The school district was still operating the pool when it turned over the recreational programs to the county in January 1978. The school and county shared in the pool’s operation and maintenance. Warren Steurer became county recreation director in 1978 and took over the swimming pool programs.
The pool received some upgrades after the movie for “An Officer and a Gentleman” was filmed in Port Townsend in 1981. The film crew needed the facilities for parts of the film and paid handsomely for the use.
The school district’s voter-approved bond levy from 1992 included money for the pool. Improvements were made in 1994-95 to operating systems and tile, but the facility remains essentially the same as originally constructed.
Over the years, large numbers of townspeople have learned to swim through various recreational swimming programs. The public pool has provided lifeguard and water safety instruction, and opportunities for many; even kayak owners have dragged their boats into the pool for water safety and “Eskimo roll” training.
Whether interest is focused on instructional, recreational, competitive or health exercise programs, the indoor pool remains available as a comfortable venue – in contrast to the frigid open waters surrounding Jefferson County.
In 1995 the County stopped funding the pool. Following this, the City of Port Townsend leased the pool from the school district and took over most operating expenses. In 2008 there was a threat that the pool would close if additional support from the County and Hospital were not forthcoming. In 2009 the school district vacated the Mountain View Elementary School and the City leased the now named Mountain View Commons for 5 years. The Police Station, YMCA, Food Bank, Working Image, Red Cross, Library (temporarily), Port Townsend radio station and the Pool currently call Mountain View Commons home.
In 2012 the pool was again threatened with closure unless money was found for essential repairs. An exchange of funds between City and County provided approximately $150,000 of 'unfettered' money. The pool was closed in November 2012 for almost 5 months for repairs that included a new liner, new natatorium lighting, and upgrades in the pump room, decking and dressing rooms. Volunteers, many of them from JAC, scrubbed and painted, and installed dressing stalls and lockers.
Who uses the pool? Annually there are over 30,000 entries by Jefferson County residents of all ages. Data distributed in a 2010 Port Townsend Water Bill Newsletter showed that for 2009, 49% of the pool entries were youth, 34% were adults and 18% were seniors. Swim lessons were the largest use for youth (35%), followed by competitive swimming (29%), recreation and YMCA programs (14-15% each) and a variety of other uses such as water babies and Special Olympics. Adults and Seniors use the pool primarily for fitness - lap swimming and aqua exercise. Although no reliable data is available for the breakdown of city vs unincorporated county users, those of us who swim regularly have made many friends there who live outside the city. Brinnon elementary school sends all its students every year for swim lessons, and the high school girls team includes Chimacum students.
The Mountain View Pool is truly a Jefferson County resource.