Natatorium makes a splash
High school holds grand opening of long-discussed pool, central plant
AMBLER » The grand opening of the Wissahickon High School Athletic Complex lobby and Natatorium Nov. 2 caused quite a splash — in more ways than one.
Several hundred turned out for an opening ceremony preceded by guided tours featuring the 10-lane competition pool, four locker rooms and raised seating for 342 spectators.
The natatorium was part of a $23 million project that included a new central plant comprising heating and cooling elements, an emergency generator and pool pump and filtration system that took about 18 months to complete.
“The central plant is a huge piece of this,” Superintendent James Crisfield said prior to the ceremony. The high school previously did not have a pool, he said; students and community groups — Trojan Aquatics and the Wissahickon Community Aquatics Club — used the old, small pool at the middle school, which was not deep enough for diving and was “still working but was inefficient.”
The middle school pool allowed for only one event or practice at a time, Crisfield said.
“This is more efficient, it’s an investment in the facility,” he said.
Greg Wild, co-chair of Trojan Aquatics, a “de facto booster club” supporting the high school water polo, swim and dive teams, and water polo at the middle school level, said beforehand he would be “speaking from a community perspective” at the event.
Noting he “was very involved in driving the process,” Wild said, “Once this is up running and good, [the district] will begin the process of closing the middle school pool,” which will be replaced with an auditorium.
“The old pool is in design to see if we can build an auditorium,” district Business Administrator Wade Coleman acknowledged. Following architectural design, “we could take it to the board and see if it wants to purse it with the cost, probably in 2018.
“The middle school has never had an auditorium.”
The state-of-the art pool has a moveable blockhead, allowing for more than one use of the pool at one time, 14 adjustable diving blocks, a scoreboard that can track swimmers times, and a 12 ½-foot depth for diving.
“We’re very excited to have this,” WHS sophomore Hannah Havrilla, a member of the swim team and WCAC, said during a tour. “We’re happy this finally came through.
“I love it. It’s everything we hoped for.”
“It is incredible, isn’t it?” Wissahickon School Board President Sherri Becker said, kicking off the opening ceremony featuring a swim noodle cutting, first plunge, swim relays, water polo scrimmage and diving. “This is a watershed moment.”
In 2013, a group of parents told the school board “about some serious issues with the [middle school] pool,” and after 14 months of study and discussion of reports, “it became clear the Wissahickon community would benefit from a new pool,” Becker said.
The natatorium became part of a long-term facilities plan including the “much needed central plant,” water drainage issues, and a reconfiguration of the school bus parking lot “to provide more safety for students,” she said.
“I can’t help but think how fortunate our students are. I look forward to seeing the community at large sharing it.”
Crisfield called the natatorium “an example of the entire community having a growth mindset,” and thanked the community for its investments in the school community and Lower Gwynedd Township officials for a “level of trust that is incredibly valuable to us.”
He also thanked the “aquatics advocates” and contractors who “had an unbelievable complex task.”
“This is awesome,” Wild told the crowd. “The high school water polo and swim teams can actually practice together. We can have large league events … be a host site for Suburban I championships — this wasn’t possible before – and more recreational activities for the community.”
Swim team captains poured some water from the middle school pool into the new pool, “merging the past with the future,” Blair said, before members of the swim teams and alums took a “first ceremonial plunge.”
Relays, a water polo scrimmage and diving demonstration followed.
“It was a complex project,” Crisfield noted earlier. “The best thing was to see the reaction of the students” when they first saw the natatorium.
“It’s not a bad thing to be excited about your school.”
Swim team members dive into the pool for a friendly competition during grand opening of Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium Nov. 2, 2017.
Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield speaks during grand opening of Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium Nov. 2, 2017.
Dignitaries prepare to pull apart a ribbon of floatation noodles during the grand opening at Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium Nov. 2, 2017.
Swim team members Nicky Piscopo, Bobby Mcfarland, Maddy Hippensteal and Peter Decker make “W”s with their hands during grand opening of Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium Nov. 2, 2017.
Starting blocks line the pool at Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium during grand opening ceremony Nov. 2, 2017.
Members of the swim team jump into the pool together during grand opening of Wissahickon High School’s Natatorium Nov. 2, 2017.