Serenity Bettschen is all smiles as she waits in the foyer of the Ashcroft Pool on July 4. The 10-year-old from Chilliwack has been here for a week already, staying with her grandparents, and has been waiting for the pool to open.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “I don’t get to go swimming a lot. I’m spending three weeks with my grandparents, and then my parents are coming up and we’re going camping.” She says she plans on being at the pool a lot until then. “I’ve been dying to go in.”
As soon as she gets the all-clear she scampers through the door to the pool deck. It’s taken a couple of minutes to get to the counter, as the person ahead was booking swimming lessons, and pool manager Nancy Villeneuve says she expects that things will take a little more time than usual, at least for the first little while.
“Today is a tweaking day,” she says of the first day open for the season. “Normally people can step aside and let someone else up, and now people have to wait, but they’re used to that.”
Lessons are taking more time than usual to book as there are no group lessons this year. Instead, up to five spaces are available each day for individual lessons, and with so many choices, it can take longer to sort everything out. “We were open for bookings before today, and we got quite a few, but there will be more.”
She adds that while spaces are still available, they’re filling up fast. “We’re pretty solid for July and the first week of August.” Many of the spots are being booked for kids who have been taking lessons in past years and want to work toward the next level.
Head lifeguard Hannah Franes notes that it’s not just Ashcroft kids who are keen to work on their swimming skills. With many pools in the region not open, people are travelling from other communities to book lessons. “We’ve had kids book who have been having lessons in Cache Creek and Kamloops.”
Under a clear blue sky and blazing sun, some 15 children are splashing in the pool, sweeping down the slide, and cannoning off the diving board. One or two parents are in the water with their under-seven children, and others watch from the deck or from outside the pool fence. It looks very much like any typical summer day at the pool, but Villeneuve says there have been a lot of little changes, and that “Today is definitely about working things out.”
The pool has a high capacity — 50 people — but far fewer people are allowed in the change rooms at a time. “If the pool closes at 4 p.m., at 3:55 people should leave the pool before the change room gets full,” she notes. Everyone using the pool needs to shower before entering, and while there are showers available in the change rooms and on the deck, patrons are being encouraged to shower before they arrive. Every person or group needs to sign in with a name and phone number: “That way, if something happens we can look back on that day and contact everyone who was here.”
Because of the way the lockers are stacked, it would be impossible for more than one person at a time to use them, so they’re closed for the season; people can take their towels and personal items onto the deck or leave them in the car.
The building now has Internet access, meaning debit and credit cards can be used there, but cash is still accepted. “I handed one kid some change without thinking,” says Franes with a laugh. “He said ‘You should have put it on the counter.’ Kids are getting used to things.
“There won’t be any fun days this year, sadly,” she continues. “Most of the games we used to have involve shared contact and no physical distancing. I hope people won’t mind, and that they’ll just be happy the pool is open. Use of a pool is considered a low risk activity, according to Interior Health.
“As lifeguards, we’re not enforcing physical distancing in the pool. If we see someone who looks uncomfortable with [too close] distancing we’ll enforce it, but otherwise we’ll let people play. The biggest risk is in the change room, not the pool.”
Lifejackets are available on-site, but patrons are able to bring their own, and some toys have been put out. “They’re sanitized every day,” explains Villeneuve. “There’s lots of cleaning and sanitizing going on throughout the day, especially high-touch areas.” There are chairs spaced out along the deck, but family groups can move them together, and markings on the deck by the slide and diving board are designed to keep users two metres apart while they wait their turn.
Two children who have finished their swim spend some time gravely contemplating the list of items available from the concession before making their choices. Franes notes that everything on offer at the concession — chips, pop, chocolate bars, and ice cream treats — is individually packaged.
Outside, things look a little different. Villeneuve says they were able to paint the pool as usual, and give it time to cure this year before it was filled. The pool building was also given a makeover, and is now painted a soothing sea-foam green, while the garden out front has been dug up and replaced with rocks and xeri-scaping for a cleaner, less labour intensive look. The roof will be repaired later this summer, to fix a persistent leak in the woman’s change room.
Tyrone and Shauna Laskey have been sitting on the grass outside the pool fence, watching their son Lynden, 11, while he swims. It’s the first of what he hopes will be a lot of swims over the next two months.
“I come here a lot in summer,” he says. “I enjoy swimming, and I’ve been looking forward to the pool being open.”
Tyrone says he’s impressed by the safety measures he’s seen in place. “It’s nice to see it open. It’s amazing how little time we’ve spent at the park this year, compared to how much we’re usually here [with soccer as well].”
“It’s somewhat normal,” adds Shauna.
It’s a sentiment Villeneuve echoes. “It’s a return to normality for people, and they’re so happy.”
Franes notes that in the run-up to opening, people were walking past as work went on at the pool. “They saw us painting, and filling the pool, and they got excited.”
She adds that the lifeguards have had to do extra training this year. “There are changes everywhere, lots of little things to do. We have more training, probably next week. There’s only one person in Kamloops doing the training, but the City of Kamloops has been super helpful.
“And if people have questions, they can ask us, or go on the Facebook page [Ashcroft Pool and Park] or Instagram.”
The door to the pool deck opens and Serenity, dripping wet, comes into the foyer. Her beaming grin says it all, but I ask the question anyway: “Did you have fun?’
She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes!”