Belen Schools break ground for indoor swimming pool

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It’s a dream that’s been in the making for six years.

And on Tuesday, more than 50 community members watched as the ground began to move.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Belen Schools officials used gold shovels to signify the ground breaking of the Belen High School’s community swimming pool. Pictured, from left, are maintenance supervisor Frank Ortega, school board members Larry Lindberg, Lorraine Espinosa, secretary Lola Quintana, Adrian Pino and Sam Chavez, finance director George Perea, Belen High School administrative intern Barbara Rodriguez, facilities specialist Eloy Mendoza and Superintendent Ron Marquez.

In about a year and a half, an empty barren field full of dead grass at Belen High School will be transformed into the indoor community swimming pool.

“It’s going to be an outstanding state facility that compares to others across the state,” said Belen Superintendent Ron Marquez during Tuesday’s ground-breaking ceremony.

The Belen Consolidated School’s Board of Education will meet on Monday, Dec. 17, for a workshop to discuss the pool’s cost.

The pool is estimated to cost $8.8 million — $800,000 more than what is slotted for the project. Voters approved the $23.75 million bond in February 2011.

Preliminary design plans reveal the 30,000-square-foot natatorium facility will consist of two pools, a competition pool going in two directions and a therapy/diving pool, a seating capacity of 300, rest rooms, showers, a one meter diving board and a three meter diving board, said Miriam Hicks, project architect with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini.

The diving pool will contain warm water and the seven-foot competition pool will have cool water. The cooler water aids in allowing for faster swimming speeds during competitions, Hicks said.

“This pool will be competitive amongst the fastest pools in the state,” Hicks said.

This facility could add a swim team to the long list of activities provided to students, said Belen Board of Education President Sam Chavez.

The pool is also expected to stimulate economic growth by bringing swimming state competitions to the area, Marquez said.

The community pool will be located between the high school football stadium and the high school swimming pool, which will be utilized even after the community pool is open.

Administrators announced last month they would be delaying the sale of $13 million worth of General Obligation Bonds, including the pool’s funding, to receive the best interest rate.

The last two audits, from 2009-10 and 2010-11, were given an unfavorable opinion that could cause the district to receive a poor rating from a bond rating agency resulting in a higher interest rate for the district.

But the opinion given to the 2011-12 audit, due in mid-November to the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor, could turn this around.

This audit is expected to receive a “very favorable” opinion and be a drastic improvement from the last couple of years, Chavez said.

Although this audit was turned in late, Marquez told the News-Bulletin previously that the district was “taking the time to cross our t’s and dot our i’s, and double check our numbers before we submit (the audit) to our auditors.”

When Marquez stepped into his position, he was unsure if this vision could come to fruition, he said.

“But it’s going to happen — something we considered a dream will become a reality,” he said.

The pool is estimated to be open in the fall of 2014, Marquez said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.