The 1600

Marin Academy's Student Newspaper

The 1600

The 1600

On the New Aquatic Center: Opportunities, Delays, and Anticipation


Finn D. '24, Co-Editor in Chief and Writer, Opinion and Community

Driving or walking along 5th Avenue in San Rafael, have you ever wondered why there is a large hole in the ground? Or why there is a perpetual sound of drilling? Well, for the last few months, construction crews have worked to tear down office buildings, excavate trenches, lay piping, pour cement, and assemble the steel framework of a new aquatic center. Anyone who has had a class in a library classroom in the past semester has surely experienced the discordant sound of jackhammers and bulldozers echoing through the building.

Located on 1530-1534 Fifth Avenue, adjacent to MA’s Library building, the new Aquatic Center will bring an array of opportunities for social, academic, and athletic connections. The school first proposed the idea to the San Rafael Design Review Board in October 2020, but it wasn’t until July of 2021 that construction began.

The new Aquatic Center plans to replace Marin Academy’s aging pool and its accompanying facilities. The current pool, predominantly used by the boys and girls+ water polo teams, is well over 90 years old and happens to not only be the oldest pool in Marin County but the “oldest pool in the state of California that’s used for current interscholastic programs,” says Girls+ Water Polo coach and English teacher, Mary Collie. Although its artifactual qualities are award-worthy, it faces a range of problems such as poor circulation and temperature regulation.

Constructed in 1930 under the former San Rafael Military Academy, the old pool is quite small, holding a mere four lanes, while actually striped for five. Jaime Collie described the facility as “really limiting,” as MA’s water polo team can only play 2o yards. The pool’s small size prevents MA from hosting water polo matches and swimming competitions with neighboring schools, which Mary Collie explains is “a huge factor” for students committed to a water polo experience—and why many are drawn away from MA polo. Mary Collie also shared the analogy of “a chemistry class where there was one microscope for ten students,” while the water polo team has “been working with one microscope for twenty kids.”

MA’s Current Pool is Over 90 Years Old. Image Credit: marinacademy (Instagram).

With the combination of the pool’s complications and a growing number of students interested in polo and other swimming-related sports, MA deemed the construction of a new pool a necessary addition to campus. “The school has been talking about building a new Aquatic Center for a long time—since I interviewed at MA sixteen years ago,” says Girls+ Water Polo coach and MA math teacher, Jamie Collie. However, it wasn’t until recently that MA launched the project.

In addition to the facility benefiting MA’s water sports teams, the school’s partner organizations will be able to increase outreach and class size. Summer enrichment programs like AIM High, and Tamalpais Aquatic Masters, an adult swim team, teaching swimming and other recreational activities to youth will be able to expand their capacities. Mary Collie suggested that “the head of the Masters’ program could help offer more swim opportunities for younger kids to become water safe.”

The new center’s 25 yds x 33-meter pool (nearly triple the size of the existing pool) will be a game-changer for the community. Accompanied by a two-story wellness building containing restrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, changing and office areas, aquatic equipment, and chemical storage areas, the eleven-lane pool will offer a wide range of amenities for the community to enjoy. MA appears to make participant and spectator experience a priority in the design of the new 18,737 sq. ft. Aquatic Center, as concrete decking, site lighting, an LED-illuminated scoreboard, a PA system, and bleacher seating were announced in a project description. In addition to on-site amenities, the environment was equally important, and it was decided that several trees and shrubs would be added along 5th Avenue, bordering the perimeter.

The hope is that these new facilities will prompt student and teacher socialization. Furthermore, MA will partner with the city of San Rafael to provide much-needed swimming lessons and swim team programs. “Learning to swim is a safety and life skill that we want everyone to have access to. I also envision offering lifesaving/lifeguard guard classes that can create job opportunities for young people,” says Travis Brownley, Head of School. Additionally, Travis would like to thank the community for their “enthusiasm and generosity, [and] hope[s] to have a grand opening this spring!”

Despite initial targets to complete the Aquatic Center by the Spring of 2022, it is probable that it will not be ready until the Summer of 2022, due to “weather-related construction challenges in November and December,” says Travis Brownley. The winter rains damaged some of the pool’s cement side walls and supporting steel configuration. This disruption was a result of mud and rainwater creating a slippery surface for the recently laid cement. Construction crews had to reset the majority of the structural wall furthest from MA’s library building. Although these hindrances delayed the project, progress is still being made.

The signature shapes and curves of a swimming pool are evident from the Library windows—and the wellness center is beginning to resemble a building. Either way, the changes to campus with this new facility will be enormous, and MA swimmers are eager to jump in.

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On the New Aquatic Center: Opportunities, Delays, and Anticipation