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Santa Rosa Junior College’s new Olympic-sized pool makes a splash

The new pool is a first for the junior college and is the only facility of its size between Petaluma and the Oregon border.|

On Thursday afternoon, Jill McCormick, head coach of Santa Rosa Junior College’s swim and dive teams, stood at a podium on campus and gestured behind her. The 85-degree heat made the 50-meter expanse of sparkling water she was highlighting look especially tempting.

“This facility, this pool, is not only for SRJC athletics and our college,” said McCormick to the crowd of nearly 200 people who had gathered to mark the dedication of the junior college’s new aquatic center and Olympic-sized outdoor pool. “It is for our entire community.”

Thursday’s event signified the culmination of more than three decades of advocacy, planning and labor by McCormick and other longtime members of the local swimming community to complete the first Olympic-sized pool built between Petaluma and the Oregon border. The relative rarity of such facilities in Northern California gives the college’s new aquatic center a uniqueness among the capital projects funded by Measure H, the $410-million bond issue voters approved in 2014.

The $4.3 million, state-of-the-art facility will now be a resource for swimmers of all ages and experience levels in Sonoma County.

McCormick in a recent interview said seeing her athletes and members of the Neptune Swim Team, a local club established in 1955, use the pool in the past two weeks has been “surreal.”

A member of the local swim community since she was 11 years old, McCormick has seen a lot. She’s witnessed the closure of the aquatics facility where she grew up training — Mayette Swim Center — and watched other local pools close or simply grow worn with age. She swam with the junior college’s swim team in the ‘80s and, since rejoining the school as head coach in 2000, has been part of a group of dedicated coaches who have shepherded many elite athletes to success on the national and international stage.

Last spring, when swim practices resumed and construction on the aquatic center was fully underway, McCormick took to dragging a chair out of her office about once a week to sit and watch progress unfold.

Now that it’s complete, “every day it still takes my breath away,” she said. “I’m definitely not used to it.”

If any silver lining can be found during the pandemic, for the junior college it was the opportunity to move up construction timelines to complete more of its Measure H projects in less time, said Frank Chong, president of the college.

That includes building a new field house at the Bailey Field complex, redoing the turf football fields and track, all in the vicinity of the aquatic center.

Work on other Measure H projects, including the college’s new STEM center, is ongoing.

Chong said the school opted to speed up its timeline because campus was still largely unoccupied compared to pre-pandemic levels, which allowed for more noisy work to proceed during the day. They also tried to minimize the impact of ever-increasing costs for materials due to supply chain issues and inflation.

“We’re trying to save taxpayers as much money as we can to allow us to do more projects rather than less,” Chong said.

The aquatic center was originally due for completion in 2023, in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the swim team. As of spring 2021, the junior college’s swim team was the most decorated athletic team at the school, holding eight of its 20 state titles.

It has also produced 500 All-Americans, 200 Academic All Americans and 300 All-Conference Athletes, in addition to 40 individual national champions and 75 state and conference champions, according to the school.

That legacy of excellence was on display at Thursday’s dedication, as keynote speaker David Salo took the stage.

Salo, who graduated from the junior college in 1978, is a decorated coach best known for his work as head swim coach at the University of Southern California and as an assistant coach for several Olympic swim teams. He coached several gold medal-winning Olympians, including Jason Lezak and Amanda Beard.

Salo saluted McCormick and Matthew Markovich, dean of the Kinesiology, Athletics and Dance department, for their work to accomplish the aquatic center’s construction.

“You ... have done yourselves proud,” he said. “No doubt Santa Rosa Junior College and aquatic sports will be better for what you have done to see this to completion.”

Speakers also nodded to the college’s founding swim coach, Bob Miyashiro, in their remarks. Just beyond the new pool, the older indoor pool, built when Miyashiro first joined the college in 1973, was renamed this month as the Bob Miyashiro Pool.

Beyond adding to the school’s athletic prowess, the new aquatic center will also provide a place for community members to participate in certification programs for water rescue, lifeguarding and SCUBA.

McCormick said increasing public access to swim facilities was an important priority as she pushed for the new pool.

“I’m thrilled we have a facility now that will allow our community the opportunity for health and fitness,” she said.

Chong said the space will also serve to introduce prospective students to the college.

“At a time when all community colleges around the country are facing challenges, we see this as being a great magnet and draw for young people to come, and hopefully older adults later, if we can attract more opportunities for them to swim as well,” he said.

With the pool now open, the college is still raising money to help cover additional costs related to competition and athletes’ needs. Donations to the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation can help pay for athletes’ lodging and meals while traveling to meets, as well as equipment and pay for officials who work the meets.

McCormick and others are turning their attention to finding ongoing support for those needs even as they celebrate the milestone reached this year.

“Things like gyms and pools, if you do some maintenance over the years, they will last forever,” McCormick said, “which is great, because they are so important for our youth.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

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