Carpinteria Community Pool wakes up before sunrise. At 6 a.m. lap swimmers arrive, silently churning the lanes with purposeful strokes as steam rises from the 80-degree water. Later, dozens of third-graders arrive and the calm is replaced with splashing, giggles and little limbs learning new movements. Then there’s the frantic energy and whistle blowing of water polo, the squirmy excitement of preschoolers first dipping their heads underwater, and the chatter of the aqua aerobic regulars catching up on one another’s lives while following the instructor’s movements. This spring, the daily pulse of aquatic activity at Carpinteria Community Pool celebrates 30 years.
“To me, it’s an oasis. It’s the fountain of youth,” says Chris Van Der Kar, who attends the aqua aerobics class three times a week at the pool. “I go in feeling 5’11” and I come out feeling over 6 feet tall.”
Van Der Kar enjoys a special satisfaction when he uses the pool. He and several other Carpinterians dedicated years of their lives to the pool project, ultimately securing crucial partnerships with the city of Carpinteria and Carpinteria Unified School District, and raising the $1.1 million needed to fund the project.
“It’s the quintessential Carpinteria story — people making it happen,” recalls Susan Anderson, another member of the Carpinteria Community Pool Committee.
Long before the committee incorporated as a nonprofit in 1984, there were Carpinterians committed to the concept of building a public pool. Linda Akens, who joined the committee in 1985 and was president when the pool was constructed, remembers Alex Nordholm as the initial driver of the pool idea.
Nordholm had grown up swimming in pools in Fresno. He competed on Fresno State University swim team, worked many summers as a lifeguard for Los Angeles County, and helped to start the Junior Lifeguard program in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. He strongly believed in the importance of teaching children water safety.
Jeff White, a highly skilled waterman whose legacy includes winning international dory races and founding the Rincon Classic surf contest, was also an early and active member of the pool committee. White and Nordholm both passed away in 2011.
Passion and energy were never in short supply on the pool committee, but when Maureen Zoll and Akens joined the group, they brought the necessary fundraising know-how. Akens worked for Southern California Gas Company, where she’d been involved in fund development. According to Van Der Kar, “She helped us go from wishful thinking to ‘Hey, we can do this.’”
The committee had $50,000 in the bank when Akens came on board. Barbecues, ice cream socials, T-shirt sales and lemonade stands had slowly fed the pool coffer, but it was hundreds of thousands of dollars short. “The cost kept getting huger and huger, and barbecues just weren’t going to raise it,” remembers Anderson.
Though funding was critically lacking, the rest of the pieces had begun to fall into place. The city of Carpinteria agreed to manage the pool if a central location could be found that would allow easy access to most Carpinterians. Pool committee member and retired CUSD Superintendent Bill Carty helped facilitate an agreement with the school district for a site that met the city’s parameters. The corner of Carpinteria and Palm avenues, a portion of the Carpinteria Junior High School property, would become the home of a community pool. Respected local architect Don Bensen drew up the plans.
Carpinteria’s State Assemblyman at the time, Jack O’Connell, lived in town. He secured a $300,000 grant for the pool, which appeared to be the crucial funding leap necessary to build the pool.
But then bad news arrived in the form of an updated construction estimate. Committee members learned that the pool would cost $700,000 to build, far more than they had anticipated. When construction bids were received in 1987, they were even higher than the estimates.
A Carpinteria Herald editorial reflecting on the pool project stated, “Let it suffice to say the obstacles were constant and sometimes large enough to make turning back seem easier than moving ahead. For example, 1986 cost estimates were nearly twice those expected, and 1987 constructions bids were even higher. Although the committee was hundreds of thousands of dollars short, community leaders decided to break ground on the pool. They put their reputations on the line; then they raised the needed money.”
Akens and Carty applied for support from the Amateur Athletic Association, which awarded funds from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. The pool project was offered a $100,000 matching grant with a one-year deadline. The community rallied to raise its portion. In her Carpinteria Herald column, Rosemarie Fanucchi wrote, “Perhaps if we lived in another community, the cry would be, ‘It can’t be done,’ but Carpinterians pull together when we see a job needs to be done and we need to put all our weight behind this venture.”
More ice cream socials and community fundraisers ensued. Support poured in from large private donors such as the Hickey, Bliss and Serena families, and tiles on the pool building wall commemorate all the community members who contributed. City leaders agreed to contribute the final funds necessary to complete the project.
“We raised over a million dollars,” Akens remembers, “and that was a lot of money back then.”
In kind donations also paved the way for the pool. SoCal Gas donated the gas-powered heater for the pool, and Van Der Kar remembers rolling out sod alongside other volunteers during the landscaping phase.
June 11, 1989 marked the grand opening of the Carpinteria Community Pool. Hundreds of people flocked to see Carpinteria’s newest accomplishment. Pool Committee members raced in inner tubes while the crowd cheered. Assemblyman O’Connell beat Carpinteria Mayor Tom Lewis in a swimming race, but as then 1st District Supervisor Gloria Ochoa told the newspaper, “The real winners today will be the children who will use the pool in years to come.”
Anderson’s son went on to lifeguard at the pool and her two grandsons recently finished their varsity water polo careers for Carpinteria High School. Akens’ daughter joined the swim team soon after her mom helped bring the pool into existence, and Van Der Kar’s son took his first swim lessons there. Thousands of Carpinteria children have become water wise thanks to the Community Pool and the countless hours the Pool Committee dedicated to turning the dream into reality.