Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ribbon-cutting for Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool a blessing for longtime users after 11-month renovation

Infrastructure upgrades, new locker rooms and student tile art in lobby greet visitors at ceremony.

People who’ve been waiting nearly a year for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool to reopen can’t dive in quite yet, but Liana Wallace invited them to share in a blessing of the water’s sounds and presence through words and waving hands as they stood alongside the poolside.

“We bless the water today,” she said. “The water will not forget. The water will stand by you and keep you strong.”

Kendrea Makaily (left) leads a cleansing ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool following nearly a year of renovations during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Kendrea Makaily (left) leads a cleansing ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool following nearly a year of renovations during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More than 50 people showed up early Friday afternoon for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the downtown pool’s reopening after 11 months of renovations. Welcoming speeches by local leaders outside the building were followed by a cleansing ceremony inside by Wallace and five other members of the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, with attendees then able to tour upgraded locker rooms, a lobby adorned with a mural of nearly 300 tiles featuring artwork by local children and other improvements.

“It has been my absolutely favorite place in Juneau, my happy place ever since I moved here,” said Carole Triem, a former Juneau Assembly member who’s been a regular at the pool for the past 30 years and played a key role in getting the $8 million renovation approved.

Former Juneau Assembly member Carole Triem (left) and Mayor Beth Weldon cut the ribbon at the entrance of the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during a reopening ceremony Friday following nearly a year of refurbishments at the facility. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Former Juneau Assembly member Carole Triem (left) and Mayor Beth Weldon cut the ribbon at the entrance of the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during a reopening ceremony Friday following nearly a year of refurbishments at the facility. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Triem, who along with Mayor Beth Weldon cut the ribbon during Friday’s ceremony, said “I can’t wait to get another lifetime” out of the building that’s now more than 50 years old.

“So I hope all those six-year-olds who are getting their parents to sign up for the swim team will also feel like this is their happy place 30 years from now,” she told those gathered at the ceremony.

The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use Tuesday, with limited operating hours from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Friday. The official grand reopening is scheduled Saturday, March 9, with two free community swims from 1–2:30 p.m. and 3–4:30 p.m. that will also feature cupcakes and other celebratory touches.

Andy Hemenway, a longtime Juneau resident, inspects new individual showers in the men’s locker room at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Andy Hemenway, a longtime Juneau resident, inspects new individual showers in the men’s locker room at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Longtime users of the pool said they are eager for the reopening because, in many instances, driving out the Dimond Park Aquatic Center in the Mendenhall Valley wasn’t an appealing option for themselves and/or family members — especially for purposes such as early-morning workouts before going to work. Many, like Triem, also have personal connections to the downtown pool.

“When I first moved to town this is how I got to know people in town,” said Andy Hemenway, who said he first visited the pool in 1979. “I met my wife, we met at the pool.”

Such personal stories and attachments came as a surprise to Terra Patterson, who became the aquatics manager for the City and Borough of Juneau a year and a half ago. During Friday’s ceremony she said she knew nothing about the pool when she arrived was that it was the smaller of Juneau’s two public pools and “it was in dire need of renovations.”

Guests enter the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during a reopening ceremony Friday following nearly a year of refurbishments at the facility. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Guests enter the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during a reopening ceremony Friday following nearly a year of refurbishments at the facility. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Then Patterson started talking to regular users at the pool.

“People didn’t complain about the conditions of the old locker rooms,” she said. “They didn’t complain about how the boiler would go out with some regular frequency and leave users with cold water. I never heard that it wasn’t as exciting for younger kids compared to the counterpart in the valley. I never heard any of those things. The community of Juneau was always happy to share the things that made this pool special to them, but they never focused on what it was lacking.”

Patterson said many of the upgrades are to fix infrastructure deficiencies, including a new boiler, replacing the water and wastewater plumbing, air and heat circulation, electrical work, resurfacing the leisure pool, and removing asbestos. More visible are renovated locker rooms where the floors and walls have new surfaces, and the new showers include some individual stalls.

Some of the 288 tiles featuring art by local children that line the upper walls of the lobby at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. Half of the tiles are digitalized images of Juneau that second- and third-grade students painted on tiles that in 1999 were placed in the now-remodeled locker room showers, while the other half are new drawings by local students of their favorite memories of the pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Some of the 288 tiles featuring art by local children that line the upper walls of the lobby at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. Half of the tiles are digitalized images of Juneau that second- and third-grade students painted on tiles that in 1999 were placed in the now-remodeled locker room showers, while the other half are new drawings by local students of their favorite memories of the pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A significant artistic and cultural addition is the 288 tiles along the upper walls of the lobby, half of them drawn by local students in 1999 and the other half by students last year just before the renovations began in April. Patterson said a special effort was needed to preserve the artwork on the older tiles featuring the students’ images of Juneau, which had lined the showers in the locker room before the renovation.

“They were done with lead paint and they couldn’t be salvaged,” she said. “So we had somebody digitize them to high-resolution pictures and then found a way to transfer them on the tiles.”

For the new artwork, Patterson said students were asked “to submit their favorite drawings of their favorite memories here at the pool.” The old and new titles are now intermingled above a row of windows that allow people in the lobby to see the pool area.

“It’s probably my favorite thing in the entire renovation, this mural that goes across the lobby,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More than 50 people gather at the side of the main pool during Friday’s ceremonial opening of the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More than 50 people gather at the side of the main pool during Friday’s ceremonial opening of the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs sits in the sauna of the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs sits in the sauna of the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Juneau Mayor Beth Wendon have a poolside chat during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Juneau Mayor Beth Wendon have a poolside chat during Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the renovated Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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