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Historic Richmond Swimming Pool Rehab Begins

Dear to the hearts of many Richmonders who learned to swim there or their children learned to swim there, the venerable Richmond Plunge is on the way back to life. Following is West County Times coverage, and a video clip can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/group/northandeast. More photos at http://www.richmondplunge.org/08Aug.html.

Significantly, The Plunge has attracted more outside grant money for rehabilitation than the City of Richmond has put into it, another example of how historic preservation brings money and recognition into our city, enhancing our image and improving the quality of life for our residents.

Renovation on Richmond's 83-year-old indoor pool begins at last

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 08/04/2008 04:24:45 PM PDT

It's rare to see a crowd cheer when construction equipment plows into the side of an 83-year-old building, especially in historic Point Richmond. But the wall that gave way Monday doesn't signal an end, rather a new beginning.

The Richmond Plunge renovation is under way, seven years after the building was declared unsafe and shut down. About 100 residents watched crews begin work Monday morning and toured the inside.

"I've been waiting for this since it closed," said June Albonico, who taught swimming lessons at the Plunge for 45 years and now teaches at the Kennedy High School pool. "I'd love to teach here again."

Under the first phase of this $7 million project, crews will rebuild the exterior walls to withstand earthquakes and paint the building. They'll test the columns to see if they are structurally sound. Inside, the 10,000-square-foot pool will be renovated; the historic viewing decks restored; and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems upgraded. Workers will reconstruct the roof to bring back the original windowed belvedere.

The first phase of work is slated to be finished early next year, City Engineer Rich Davidson said. And the pool could reopen next summer, although the city might have to place portable restrooms outside until crews finish renovating them inside.

The Plunge is the Bay Area's largest and oldest indoor swimming facility. When it debuted in 1926, the two-story building boasted an indoor pool, a fountain-like feature, second-floor observation balconies, offices, a meeting space and an open truss ceiling. Its warm waters drew residents of all ages from around the region, as well as big names in the swimming world.

Time, earthquakes and humidity weakened the building. The city could not keep up with repairs, deferring improvements such as seismic retrofits. Crews made some repairs, at one point altering the roof and removing the original windowed belvedere that helped provide air circulation.

By 2001, the building was unstable, cracks crawled up walls, and the mechanical and plumbing systems were failing.

"It got so that every time you turned around, something was breaking down," Albonico said. "The boilers weren't working or were breaking down. Water would be leaking out of the pool. We had roofs put on the building, and in no time at all, they were leaking again. The pool really just needed a lot of work."

Officials shut the Plunge's doors in 2001.

Supporters determined to rescue it from demolition launched a massive fundraising effort. They helped corral state grants and donations, enough to finance the first phase of renovations.

The second phase of the project, which includes renovating showers, restrooms and offices, is partially funded through a grant, but more money about $1.5 million, Jersey said is needed to complete the work.

Officials and supporters say they plan to restore the Plunge to what it was in its heyday. In addition to bringing back the original roof, they will remove a fiberglass layer that was added to the swimming pool in the 1970s and try to salvage the original tiles underneath, Jersey said.

But they won't be able to keep everything. Warm water used to flow from the top of a giant blue fountain in the corner where children would splash around, but that fountain will be removed. Officials say such features are now considered dangerous because children diving or playing near the concrete structure could injure themselves.

"We will have a fountain, but we just can't have the old concrete fountain," Jersey said.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787.

the Plunge
Supporters are continuing to raise money to complete the Richmond Plunge renovation. To learn about those efforts or to contribute, visit www.richmondplunge.org or write to Save the Richmond Plunge Trust, P.O. Box 70443, Point Richmond, CA 94807.

To see the Richmond Plunge's interior and hear plans for its renovation, visit ContraCostaTimes.com.