It's a pool to be proud of

COSTA MESA — A charming path at Costa Mesa High is commonly referred to as "the yellow brick road" by the architects who planned a renovation project. There's no Emerald City at the end, but for most in the school's community they find something just as majestic to them.

It's the Costa Mesa High School Aquatics Center.

The school's "yellow brick road," is a walkway that directs people from near the athletics facilities into the school.

As people enter from the student parking lot, it's easy to notice the new pool. It's a 50-meter Olympic-size pool. It's set to open Nov. 1, fulfilling a dream that's been in place for the past three decades.

A group that included the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education, superintendent, cabinet members, project management people and, yours truly, received an exclusive tour of the aquatics facility Monday afternoon.

A little more than a year ago, the group came to the same area, where there was just a large hole.

Now there's a pool, "633,000 gallons of water," said Jim Lamond, the district's director of facilities development planning and design.

There's also a classroom connected to the facility, as well as a snack bar. The pool will have special touch pads for timing at swim events.

"State of the art" is the term that gets thrown around when describing each part of the facility.

That would be the apt description for the scoreboard, which can actually screen movies. There's also a sound system that's top of the line, and soon it will be blaring warm-up music and announcers calling out names or the next event in a swim meet.

"I'm over-the-top excited," said Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard, describing his mood Monday. "It's such a dream come true for us. It's so beautiful. It's a masterpiece."

Five years ago that wasn't the case. The school's pool was borderline embarrassing. It was an old-school, 25-yard L-shaped pool. Water polo players would sometimes fake that they were treading water because it was so easy to touch the pool's floor.

"It was, in size, inadequate for modern meets, and it was in poor shape," said Tim Marsh, the district administrative director of facilities support services. "It wasn't like anyone would get hurt, but it was just in bad shape."

But now?

"It's a gorgeous facility," Marsh said. "The pool itself is absolutely beautiful. The rest of the complex is wonderful. It should meet all their needs for the next several decades."

There were a lot of proud faces on the pool deck Monday. Yet there also seemed to be a sense of relief.

Along this whole process there were frustrations, complications stemming from stoppages, lack of funding and lack of communication. Just the efforts the past four years have been complex.

Craig Scaringi, the project manager who directed Monday's tour, said construction dealt with several challenges because of rain last year.

After being without a pool for so long, people started to think it would never be built.

"I had to tell them, 'It's coming. It's coming,'" Hubbard said. "Now it's here."

Perhaps the time it took was a blessing in disguise. Michael Collier, a school board member who has been on the aquatic complex project the past four years, made a great point. Because of the time it took, the school acquired the latest technology and architecture for the complex.

"This pool is right up there with the top pools that are being built," Scaringi said.

Measure F, the $282 million bond measure voters approved in 2006, helped the renovation, which cost $6.6 million, said Laura Boss, the district's director of communications.

Now, the school is excited for Nov. 1. There's been talk that a grand opening party might occur before then. Coaches are receiving training for the scoreboard and timing machines.

"It's really cool to be at the cusp of opening probably the most state-of-the-art aquatic facility in the county," said Phil D'Agostino, Costa Mesa's new principal who worked at Estancia previously. "As a principal you can't ask for more. It's different than opening Jim Scott Stadium … it's truly an amazing facility."

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