Home News Local news New St. Thomas Pool Two Decades in the Making

New St. Thomas Pool Two Decades in the Making


Oct. 29, 2006 Even after 20 years, a joyous reaction Sunday afternoon indicated the crowd found the grand opening of the St. Thomas Swimming Association (STSA) pool an event worth waiting for.
"I remember when I had to go to St. Croix to swim," said Mark Hodge, as his mother, attorney Maria Tankenson Hodge, laughed at the experience.
"It was a 50-meter pool, and I wasn't used to pools at all. I had to get up at one point and clear my goggles. Finally, it was over, and I was last, and I thought, 'Well, at least I finished.' Then I found I was disqualified for standing up to remove my goggles."
With the opening of the new STSA pool, trips to St. Croix for swim meets have finally become a thing of the past. The 25-meter Olympic-sized pool glimmered in the background as about 150 community members blessed and praised it. The official name of the pool is a mouthful: the Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises Community Aquatic Center.
It was a bright afternoon, filled with good feeling as folks compared early experiences of theirs or their children's learning to swim under STSA's programs.
STSA Executive Director Katherine Huttel was clearly the star of the day. Huttel has provided the driving force for the project, with support from the members and board of STSA, includingYvonne Freeman, current STSA president, 16-year board member and Sunday's mistress of ceremonies.
Huttel's focus has remained constant from the start: to teach local children to swim in a non-threatening environment, protected from the elements. Having taught STSA lessons at Magens Bay for years, Huttel has long recognized the need for a pool for adults as well as children, for both exercise and rehabilitation. The STSA has provided swimming lessons, competitive training and aquatic certification to more than 9000 residents of St. Thomas and St. John.
Sunday was her day, and the soft-spoken Huttel looked overwhelmed as congratulations and flowers came her way. She gathered herself together, however, for a formal thank you to the community, her family, the Stingray swimming team and her colleagues. After a glowing introduction by former STSA President Judy Spurrell, Huttel spoke.
"This is hard," she said with a smile. "I might break, so bear with me."
Looking over the crowd, Huttel thanked all her colleagues and tearfully thanked her family, "My husband, Ken, and my daughters, Lauren and Margo. They have stuck by me whatever the STSA demanded."
Huttel offered special thanks for "those of us who are not here, but are here in spirit."
"I want to thank Edward O 'Brien," she said. "He was always right there. We wouldn't be here without O 'Brien Construction, and today is his birthday. Happy Birthday, Eddie. And I want to thank Sherette James, Jason Carroll and Rhondi Rivas."
After beginning to thank sponsors, Huttel said, "I always forget someone, and I don't want to do that today, but for 13 years Bellows International has sponsored the association's annual Snapple Swim-O-Thon fund-raiser at Magens Bay. The pool couldn't have gotten started without the $125,000 donation from Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises."
She also thanked the Stingray Swim team, past and present: "Some members of our very first team are going to swim for you today."
One of those members was Pam Spurrell. Before the ceremony, she sat anxiously, awaiting the big doings.
"I was a Stingray at first when I was about seven," she said. "I was the V.I. 1986 champion in my age group."
Her mother, Judy Spurrell, piped up.
"Tell about winning the McDonald Invitational that same year," she said. Pam looked at Judy before saying, "No one brags like a mother."
Elizabeth Davis, the pool's aquatic director and a recent hire from off-island, also spoke. Freeman told the crowd how fortunate the STSA is to have Davis: "We chose her out of four others, and she hit the ground running."
Davis offered some cautions for pool use and behavior and thanked the community for welcoming her: "Remember, we still have things to accomplish, and your donations are still welcome."
The ceremony moved poolside for a formal ribbon-cutting and the Stingray performance. Government House Spokesman James O'Bryan appeared on behalf of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who, he said, was attending a celebration in Antigua.
The pool shone in the afternoon sun, totally surrounded by folks in colorful dress standing and waiting for the swimming performance. It has six diving boards and six swimming lanes separated by bright blue markers.
The group was joined by two non-members: Iselyne Hennessy, who lost a leg in 1997, and Hassel Island activist Harmon Killebrew, filling in for a member unable to attend. Both swam laps, Hennessy on her back in a bright yellow suit and swim cap. The crowd cheered loudly for the two of them and the regular Stingrays.
The pool cost more than $800,000, including an $80,000 access ramp for disabled people. It holds 186,382 gallons of water.
It will be open seven days: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Swim classes will begin Nov. 4. For more information, call 779-2500.
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