When I was growing up in Spokane Valley in the 70s and 80s, one of the permanent fixtures of the landscape was a run-down billboard along Interstate 90 that said: “Future Site of the Spokane Valley Mall.” For 20 years, I’d see that sign almost daily. After a while, it faded into the background. For the community, the promise of this new mall became a bit of a joke. So, when my wife and I bought our house on Lopez four years ago, I couldn’t help but think about this when I saw a sign in the middle of the field near the corner of Center and Dill proclaiming to be the site of the future Lopez Island Pool.
As I’ve come to discover in recent days, the future Lopez Island Pool is anything but a joke. I sat down with two (very funny) women, Linda Barton and Micki Ryan, to hear about a very serious and exciting project that is steadily and surely approaching reality. Linda and Micki – along with Robin Bergstrom, Ellyn Goodrich, Asha Lela, Leslie Quenell and Liz Taylor – run the incredibly well organized group called Friends of Lopez Island Pool (FLIP).
There are many things driving the desire to build a pool for Lopez Island. To me, the most important – and shockingly ironic – reason for a pool is that the majority of young people on Lopez Island do not know how to swim. Learning to swim requires either access to a private pool or a trip off-island, and the Lopezian readers of this blog know all too well the time, expense and trouble that come with a ferry ride. Access to a public pool and swimming lessons is something that most communities around the country take for granted. Not so on Lopez. This is just one of many compelling reasons cited by Linda and Micki to build a pool. Beyond being a basic life skill that all should have, swimming is healthy: it’s great exercise; is a very effective way to recover from injury; and warm, buoyant water aids in the movement of stiffening joints, giving a great boost to the personal comfort of an aging population. And from a social perspective, swimming, according to Linda, is a “class equalizer.”
FLIP has many strategies in place for generating support for a Lopez Island pool. The first is, quite simply, to “get ‘em wet.” For the past four years FLIP has sponsored annual off-island Swim Days – taking kids to the Fidalgo Pool in Anacortes. Seen as a great field trip for kids and families, this has inspired many to start learning how to swim. The island has seen the percentage of kids who don’t know how to swim come down from over 70% six years ago to just over 50% today – a number still too high, but going in the right direction.
This photo from Fidalgo Pool was taken the first year of Lopez School Swim Day. Notice how crowded the non-swimmer (lower left) area is.
Though it’s a serious effort with some serious fundraising to do, FLIP have a lot of fun creating support for the pool. In keeping with their “get ‘em wet” strategy, they’ve formed the 468 Club, which takes regular swims in MacKaye Harbor on the South end of Lopez. They have also created many “friend-raiser” initiatives. My favorite is the Calendar Girls-inspired FLIP calendar, which showcases many a Lopez beauty – Micki Ryan among them.
FLIP Calendar’s Miss February: Micki Ryan (and her dachshund, Grace)
So, what makes me think that Lopez will definitely have a pool within a few years? In addition to the fun-and-games that Linda and Micki shared with me, FLIP is a very organized, results-oriented (non-profit) business, complete with a board of directors, specific fundraising and revenue projections, and long-term plan for sustaining and operating the pool. There’s a lot more to this operation than a sign in a field. Fifty-seven thousand dollars have already been invested in the 2.5-acre donated property where the pool will be located; and another half-million dollars will be invested over the next year – for things like construction drawings, a project manager, power, septic and other fundamental infrastructure requirements. FLIP has completed plans for not just one, but two indoor pools: an 82-degree large pool for laps and recreation, and an 86-degree smaller pool for training and therapy. The Myrtha brand of pool was chosen so that it will last longer, be less costly to build and maintain, and be more environmentally friendly than typical pools.
I am most impressed by FLIP’s plan for the future. They know they can’t just set their sights on the construction of a pool. Even more important is a plan to cost-effectively maintain a pool that will be of maximum benefit for every type of Lopezian. Linda and Micki informed me that nearly 200 community pools in the U.S. close down every year due to lack of programming to fit the range of community population needs and scheduling. This is why FLIP have formed a committee specifically focused on creating programs that benefit all ages. The pool will serve fitness advocates/lap swimmers, those needing gentle water aerobics and physical therapy, family recreation, water rescue training, learn to swim programs for all ages, water sports, competition swimming, physical education, and private parties. They’ll even provide kayak roll-over classes and scuba introduction. Linda and Micki also showed me how the numbers pencil out to pay for ongoing maintenance, using a combination of memberships, drop-in fees, special events, an endowment and ongoing fundraising. They also pointed out that the pool will create more local jobs – lifeguards, program coordinators and facilities managers.
After spending time with Linda and Micki, I’m convinced that in a few short years my kids and their friends will be swimming in the Lopez Island Pool. FLIP is yet another example of how a small community like Lopez is able to punch above its weight, and how this island is very conducive to realizing dreams of people who are passionate about a cause and willing to put forth some effort. So, as you pass by the FLIP sign on Center Road, know that there is a lot more to the story than the empty field you see behind it. You can find more information and donate to the cause on FLIP’s website, www.lopezislandpool.org. FLIP plans to reopen their capital campaign this year.
Swimmers of Club 468, Charlie Gruenwald, Joyce Lyster and Sarah Brady in MacKaye Harbor.
FLIP President, Linda Barton
By the way, the Spokane Valley Mall was finally built in the late 90s. I don’t think it’s going to take nearly as long for the Lopez Island Pool to become a reality.