Memorial Day weekend is already in the rearview mirror, and East Valley residents are hunkered down, sorting through the tricks they’ll use for the four-month fight against the triple-digit heat. But somewhere between the afternoon emergency shower and the damp-washcloth-on-the-neck trick, there’s a cool-weather diversion so overlooked it has become new again.
Memorial Day weekend is already in the rearview mirror, and East Valley residents are hunkered down, sorting through the tricks they’ll use for the four-month fight against the triple-digit heat.
But somewhere between the afternoon emergency shower and the damp-washcloth-on-the-neck trick, there’s a cool-weather diversion so overlooked it has become new again. What’s more refreshing than a Slurpee, cheaper than an ice cream run and a lot closer than a San Diego hop? The old municipal pool.
Add water and stir
“This is her first time,” Jill Griffin laughs.
We’re at Chandler’s Desert Oasis Aquatic Center, a half-hour after public swim season opens. Gangly tweens have just begun tumbling out of the two labyrinthine water slides, and the Olympic-sized main pool is still more lifeguards than lappers. But over at the kids’ pool, where Griffin dips infant daughter Ellie like a tiny biscotti, the party has already started (slideshow).
“She likes it, but I had to come back because of the boys,” Griffin says. That includes 3-year-old Jordan, who divides his time between sliding off the pool’s whale fountain and “beaching” himself, dramatically, at Mom’s and Ellie’s feet.
“My other son, Christopher, is 4. And he’s finally old enough to go off the water slide,” Griffin chuckles. “So, as soon as school was out, we had to go.”
For many Midwesterners, “city pool” conjures images of echoey natatoriums with slick tile, chlorinated smells and a lifeguard screaming through his nose plugs. “I’m originally from Chicago, and it’s different out here,” Griffin agrees. Chandler’s three-pool complex stacks up well against homegrown aquatics.
“We have a pool at home, but we like coming here because it’s more like a water park,” she says.
The water slides, whale fountain and giant rainfall mushrooms — and the nominal admission fee — make parks like Desert Oasis triple-digit destinations.
“I especially like the sight lines,” Griffin says. “I can sit here with Ellie, in my lawn chair, and watch Jordan and Christopher, too. So it’s laid out well for safety.”
Marco Cerva of Gilbert seems to like it, too. “OK, watch me,” he says, before performing an underwater somersault off the wall of the lap pool. “Did you see that?” Yes, we did. Does he like the pool? “Yes. OK, I’m going to do it again. Watch me.” He does it again. “Did you see it?” Yes, we did. Does he come here a lot? “I’m 6 and a half,” he says. “So I’ll be 7 in two months. That’s August.” OK, good to know. And he somersaults again. “I’ve been waiting to come back here. We got out of school yesterday. So here we are.” He pauses for thought. “I’m going to (somersault) one more time. OK? OK, watch me.”
East Valley cities have 28 pools where kids can find aquatic fun for about a buck. Some are school pools, revamped for team competition and fitted with amenities. Some, like Desert Oasis, are one cotton candy stand short of a theme park.
“It isn’t really crowded so far, but word gets around,” Hillary Coats explains. The Desert Oasis manager says most city pools open up when the schools close down. “It works best that way. Families have a place to go, and we have 12 lifeguards here at all times. So we have enough lifeguards to staff the pool.”
Lifeguards like Olivia Bien take it very seriously. “We can talk, but we have to keep our eyes on the pool,” says Bien, 15. She stands like a Swiss guard, red flotation device at the ready, as a tiny girl shoots out of a tube slide and drops into the water in front of her. Lifeguards take a 32-hour course, practicing CPR and rescue techniques, she says.
“We’ll do 20 minutes in a (lifeguard) chair,” she says, watching for the little girl, “then switch stations, go another 20 minutes, and take a 20-minute break.” The tiny girl from the water slide surfaces, looks at Coats, proclaims the experience “awesome!” and departs. “It keeps us alert,” Bien says. Lifeguards are no substitute for baby sitters or parental supervision. But it can give moms some peace to know there’s extra eyes on little ones.
“It never gets bad,” Coats says of the crowds. “But it’ll get busier as summer comes on.” City pools, she says, may not be everyone’s priority, “but once they drive by and see people splashing around and hear the kids laughing, they know we’re open. And a lot of people do come by.”
Including 7-year-old William Chung, who gives Desert Oasis a one-word review: “Nice!” he says, hopping foot to foot. William has been a fixture at all three pools, where the water temperature has been hanging around 82 degrees. But he fields media questions on the cool decking, which is closer to 95.
What’s nice about it? “Slide!” he says, still hopping. Is this his first time at the pool? “Yes!” Does he expect to return? “Yes!” Would he like to return now? “Yes!” he says. And the interview is called on account of submersion.
POOL DAYS, POOL DAYS
Why break a sweat when the East Valley’s 27 municipal pools let you spend summer underwater for 50 cents to $2 a day? Call your nearest oasis for hours and prices.
Arrowhead Meadows Pool: 1475 W. Erie St., (480) 732-1064
Desert Oasis Aquatic Center: 1400 W. Summit Place, (480) 732-1061
Folley Pool: 600 E. Fairview Drive, (480) 732-1063
Hamilton Aquatic Center: 3838 S. Arizona Ave., (480) 732-2630
West Chandler Aquatic Center: 250 S. Kyrene Road, (480) 783-8261
Mesquite Aquatic Center: 100 W. Mesquite St., (480) 926-1030
Gilbert Municipal Pool: 1016 N. Burk St., (480) 503-6292
Greenfield Municipal Pool: 35 S. Greenfield Road, (480) 892-2414
Brimhall Aquatic Complex: 4949 E. Southern Ave., (480) 644-5087
Carson/Westwood Aquatic Complex: 525 N. Westwood, (480) 644-2374
Fremont Pool: 1001 N. Power Road, (480) 644-2369
Kino Pool: 848 N. Horne, (480) 644-2376
Mesa Jr. High Pool: 828 E. Broadway Road, (480) 644-2377
Poston Pool: 2433 E. Adobe, (480) 644-2371
Powell Pool: 855 W. Eighth Ave., (480) 644-2378
Rhodes Pool: 1860 S. Longmore, (480) 644-2550
Shepherd Aquatic Complex: 1407 N. Alta Mesa Drive, (480) 644-3037
Stapley Aquatics Complex: 3250 E. Hermosa Vista Drive, (480) 644-4977
Taylor Pool: 705 S. 32nd St., (480) 644-3036
Cactus Aquatic Center: 7202 E. Cactus Road, (480) 312-7665
Chaparral Aquatic Center: 5401 N. Hayden Road, (480) 312-2361
Eldorado Aquatic Center: 2301 N. Miller Road, (480) 312-2484
McDowell Aquatic Center: 15525 N. Thompson Peak Parkway, (480) 312-6677
McClintock Pool: 1830 E. Del Rio Drive, (480) 350-5202
Clark Pool: 1730 S. Roosevelt St., (480) 350-5203
Escalante Pool: 2150 E. Orange St., (480) 350-5204
Kiwanis Wave: 6111 S. All-America Way, (480) 350-5201