The COVID-19 pandemic was difficult on communities around the world for many reasons. Many lives were lost, businesses suffered and millions found themselves spending most of their free time at home in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

As case numbers progressively dip in light of vaccines, however, the story is different this summer.

Already, most businesses have reopened at full capacity. Public spaces such as gyms and recreation centers have also reopened. For municipalities around the county, this means that public pools and aquatic centers will open their doors for the first time in a year.

In fact, some already have. Here is a look at what a couple of the centers in Pinal now open to swimmers have to offer:

Florence Aquatic Center

The Florence Aquatic Center reopened to the public on Memorial Day weekend. It features a competition lap pool, water slides, two 1-meter diving boards, shade areas, a family play pool as well as an air-conditioned room for reservations. Open to all members of the general public, the aquatic center has managed to attract people from across the county and central Arizona since it was constructed in 2015.

“We’re kind of regional as far as an aquatic center,” said Erasmo “Beebo” Mendivil, who as a recreation coordinator with the town of Florence oversees the aquatic center. “We get people from Queen Creek, San Tan (Valley), Casa Grande (and) Eloy.”

In previous years the facility also attracted many residents from Coolidge. But as the city of Coolidge has a new aquatic center, he noted that the number of Coolidge visitors is anticipated to drop.

Still, visitors seeking to escape the heat can often come from as far as Superior or Globe, Mendivil said.

The center also provides some unusual offerings, including a designated space for authorized food vendors.

“I think that’s one thing that’s kind of unique about our facility,” said Benjamin Bitter, intergovernmental relations and communications manager for the town. “There’s actually a little spot where we’ve kind of set apart where (vendors) can pull in and provide a service to those that are using the pool. It’s kind of a unique spot that allows for a little bit of commerce at the pool.”

Food vendors will return to the center this summer, with the town planning to work with local ice cream vendors, including JuJu’s Ice Cream truck, to establish a schedule.

As vaccinations continue, Mendivil said the town will promote social distancing at the facility in the form of regular reminders during safety breaks, markers on the ground and greater separation between lounge chairs.

Throughout the summer, the Florence aquatic center offers morning and evening swim lessons with swim instructors certified through the Red Cross as well as movies at the pool in June and Family Friday nights.

Coolidge Aquatic Center

The brand new Coolidge Aquatic Center held its grand opening May 28, replacing a public pool constructed more than 30 years ago.

The new aquatic center is located where the old city pool once was at Coolidge High School, 684 W. Northern Ave. However, the facility is somewhat larger and features a number of new amenities. Those are a zero-entry recreation pool with a play structure and slides for small children, a water slide that exceeds 23 feet, a diving well and two diving boards, a rock-climbing feature and a shaded area for seating.

The original onsite building, made up of the break room for lifeguards and public restrooms, also underwent what Parks and Recreation Director Ricky LaPaglia refers to as a “total rehabilitation.”

“For those who have been going to that pool and know what it looked like before, you’re not going to recognize it when you walk in there now. It’s really sharp.” he said.

Though the initial hope in preliminary discussions about the new facility was to construct a new building, LaPaglia said getting to incorporate the original building in the new design was also exciting.

“I’m sort of really excited we got to rehab this (building) and keep part of what was built before us,” he said. “That way we didn’t totally do away with all the community members that made that (original) pool happen in the mid-’80s.”

The center also features a separate eight-lane competition pool as opposed to the six-lane lap pool that served as the key attraction of the old city pool.

Like years prior to the COVID pandemic, the new center will likely remain open through labor day, LaPaglia said, with public access rolling back to weekends-only once the new school year begins.

In addition to open swim, the facility will host swim team practices, swim lessons and water aerobics classes. This year is also the first year Parks and Rec has dedicated an hour each day, between noon and 1 p.m., for children enrolled in Kids Kamp to swim.

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