Getting ready for the natatorium

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Being at the Belen High School swimming pool is a tradition for Barbara Rodriguez.

Her father and uncle were some of the first lifeguards at the old pool at the Belen Middle School and now, both her sons are lifeguards as well, Rodriguez said.

She manned the concession stand at the Belen High School pool the summer after her 1979 graduation from BHS. Selling snacks soon led to a job as a lifeguard and teaching swimming lessons.

After spending three years in Hawaii, Rodriguez returned to Belen and eventually became the pool manager. That was 25 years ago.

Now she's taking on something much bigger than she could have ever imagined — an entire natatorium. Or for those of us with a smaller vocabulary, an indoor swimming complex.

As the recently named aquatics director, Rodriguez is eagerly awaiting the completion of the BHS complex, slated for April 2015.

Preliminary design plans for the facility show the 24,000-square-foot natatorium will consist of two pools, a 10-lane competition pool going in two directions and a recreation/diving pool, two seating areas with a combined capacity of 375, restrooms, showers and two one-meter diving boards.

The pool will be between the high school's football stadium and current swimming pool, where the old tennis courts were located.

As the long-awaited project creeps toward completion, Rodriguez talks about all the benefits it will bring not only to the district's students but to all the people in the community.

"We've talked about this for a long time — a community pool. This is good for the community as a whole, for the students, for Belen," she said. "There will be so many educational opportunities for our students. This can bring people to the city for swim meets and competitions. This is going to be a world class facility."

The current outdoor pool at the high school is an extremely popular recreation spot, Rodriguez said, but it is limited to weather conditions and temperatures. It has to close if lightening threatens and once it gets too cold in the fall, the facility shuts down.

After that happens this year, Rodriguez has been charged with putting on her thinking goggles and devising a plan for the new indoor pool — everything from hours, to fees, to staffing and programing.

"There's a lot to do. It's going to be a busy winter for me," she said.

With the current pool price of only $1, Rodriguez said there will most likely be a small rate increase for the new pool.

"We don't want to price people out, but we do have to be able to run the place," she said.

Rodriguez continued, saying the pool will be a place for everyone to come, young old, students and residents.

"This really will be a community pool for everyone," she said.

And to get people in the habit of partaking in more frequent aquatic activities, Rodriguez has established "back-to-school" hours at the pool that coincide with the first day of school on Aug. 18.