Mt. Lebanon Swim Center opens

Published Jun 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm (Updated Jun 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm)

As an All-American swimmer at Bethel Park High School, Erik Brinkhoff rarely rose for morning practices with the enthusiasm that greeted him June 15. It was opening day at the Mt. Lebanon Swim Center and the Eastern Michigan University sophomore was so anxious to begin his fifth season as a lifeguard at the newly renovated facility that he climbed out of bed Sunday at 7:45 a.m.

“I couldn’t wait to get here and work,” Brinkhoff said. “I was so excited to come here. Everything about this place is exciting.”

Patrons, too, are thrilled with the multi-million-dollar facelift that transformed the facility into the place to hang out this summer. For 2014, the complex features 50-meter lap lanes, a renovated bathhouse, family-changing rooms, new pool heater, zero-depth beach entry and leisure pool complete with spray fountains, a double slide tower and an upgraded snack bar. The new poolside climbing wall is to be installed by the end of the week.

“It’s awesome,” said Kevin King of the refurbished facility.

The life-long Mt. Lebanon resident plans to spend the summer at the pool with his family. For King and his wife, Jodi, this is the first week of their vacation. He teaches social studies at Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and she teaches biology at Chartiers Valley High School. The Kings have four children, Sean, 11, Daniel, 9, Maggie, 7, and Kevin, 5.

While Sean prefers the slide area, his parents appreciate the family-friendly amenities, such as the entryway. The entrance enables swimmers to bypass the changing rooms and head directly to the pool deck.

“I like that you can come in without going through the locker room. When you have a lot of kids, it’s just easier,” Jodi said.

“We love the splash area for the little ones,” she continued. “It’s a great family pool. Fun for the kids.”

Children, particularly the 6-and-under crowd, enjoyed the mushroom shower and the variety of fountains spewing water in the zero-entry depth pool.

Tim Betler entertained his 5-month-old daughter, Sylvia, while his wife, Erin, accompanied 4-year-old Aubrey in the area specifically designed for youngsters. The family moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Mt. Lebanon three years ago.

“This is great,” said Tim, who lived in South Park as a youth. “My two daughters are like kids in a candy store. I know my oldest couldn’t wait for this to open.”

Ella Siefken, 11, and her sister, Ruby, 9, were so anxious for the pool to open, they arrived early only to find themselves third in line at the entrance gate. After a 20-minute wait, they ditched their towels with their parents, Anna and Paul, and plunged into the water first.

“Cool” and “exciting” Ella said of her fame. “Am I going to be on the website?” she asked regarding her achievement of being the first swimmer to jump into the new pool.

“We really didn’t plan it,” confessed Ruby, who attends Foster Elementary School and enters fifth grade next semester. “We only thought about it while we were waiting in line and noticed that only two people were in line before us. We were determined to be [first] then.

“The two kids put their stuff down and that gave us time to jump in the water,” added Ella, who will be in seventh grade at Mellon Middle School this fall. “Being third in line, we had a good chance.”

The siblings had a good day and savored their chances on the slides. Good thing they, too, arrived for the 11 a.m. opening, for the cue line snaked to the bottom of the tower by 3 p.m.

“We love the pool. It’s amazing. And, the slides are cool,” said the sisters. “The blue is the fastest and the green is just fun. You can get lost in the blue one with all the twists and turns. But, fast is better,” they agreed.

Green is best for Sean King. The 11-year-old swimmer said he liked the green slide best because green is his favorite color. “Plus,” he added, “you can do more things in it. The other one is too narrow.”

The Siefkens appreciated the vision of the architects. Their designs retained green areas and incorporated energy-saving and environmentally-friendly fixtures in the exterior lighting and interior shower facilities. “I liked that they kept the green space,” commented Anna, a transplant from Washington D.C. “I love the innovations. I like the eco-friendly features, especially.”

Mr. Siefken was especially thrilled to spend Father’s Day at the Mt. Lebanon pool. He tries to swim 1,000 meters a day or 40 short laps, the width of the pool.

“I thought it would be a fun way to start the day,” said Paul of his special Sunday. “It’s important to exercise and play at the same time.”

Giving a nod to the spray pool, Paul predicted that area will be the most popular. “It’s a great place for a young family.”

The Hacketts are one such clan. Last August, they moved to Mt. Lebanon from Ohio. Justin and Mandy spent most of Sunday in the zero-depth entry pool with their offspring, Aidan, 6, Collin, 4, and Nathan, 2.

“How privileged are our children?” Mandy interjected. “What a beautiful facility. It’s awesome. This is the perfect area. I can keep an eye on all of them. This will be home.”

Through Labor Day, Sept. 1, the facility will be a safe haven for swimmers because Mt. Lebanon employs 40-plus lifeguards. “It’s a small army,” said Mt. Lebanon Parks and Recreation Director Dave Donnellan. “It allows us to staff the pool from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

Brinkhoff agreed. “We have more eyes on the pool. That makes it safer for all swimmers. We make sure all the angles are covered.”

Mt. Lebanon covers every aspect of swimming. The center offers swimming lessons and is home to the nationally known Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club, which will host the Summer Celebration Meet from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 1-3. Lap swimming is available during regular hours, but adult swim is held from 11 a.m.-noon daily and from 8:15-9:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Lane ropes are set up for 50-meter swims at those times. The facility is also a venue for special summer events, such as dive-in movies, for families and teenagers. The pool can be rented for private parties.

“Without a doubt, this is the finest facility in the area. A maintained 50-meter swimming pool,” said Donnellan. “With the added leisure features, you can’t beat it.”

By a narrow margin, Mt. Lebanon beat the deadline to open on time. The facility passed the Allegheny County Health inspection June 13 and secured all its necessary operating permits. However, plans for a grand-opening celebration, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with dignitaries, music, food and other festivities, have been placed on hold at least until the installation of the climbing wall.

“It was down to the wire but we did it,” said Donnellan. He added the climbing wall is going to be very nice once it’s completed by the end of the week. “Obviously, we are disappointed it’s not 100 percent completed, but if that’s the worst thing to go wrong on opening day, then we are okay with that.

“We’re here. We’re open. It’s beautiful,” he said looking at the pool. “We’re thrilled.

“I love it. I hope the community loves it. And, I think they do.”

Donnellan’s daughter, Claire, certainly does. The 11-year-old slide aficionado said, “Recreation really did a great job.

“I like it, especially the blue slide. I love the speed and adrenaline rush you get going down. I like the pool and all the added features way better than the old one.”

Brinkhoff agreed. The lifeguard says that he likes how the pool is heated and how it’s a good temperature to swim in any kinds of weather, such as the 40-degree temperatures on late August mornings. “It’ll make a difference,” he said with a laugh.

“I like [that feature] a lot but there are a lot more attractions,” he added. “People everywhere will want to come here.”

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