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Kids brace themselves as a large bucket dumps water on them at Rankin Aquatic Center in Martinez, Calif., on Thursday, June 27, 2013. People are finding ways of staying cool as warm weather is expected this weekend. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

MARTINEZ -- It's a place where Chiara Ke, 7, celebrates her summer birthday, where she learned to swim and is now part of the community swim team.

It is where her mom Wendy Ke routinely walks from her Martinez home to lap swim.

"It's a good balance of adult and child-friendly space," says Ke.

The Rankin pool has been long lauded by local residents as a go-to spot to cool off since it opened in May 1948.

Recently, Martinez' downtown aquatic center has generated interest at the state level, recently receiving an award of excellence for the aesthetics and functionality of its new design by the California Park and Recreation Society.

The center, with its lap pool, interactive water play structure with "beach access," diving area, and full-length water polo facility, was funded with voter approved Measure H dollars back in November 2008.

Use of the pool has increased 600 percent since it reopened in 2011, while its operating costs have remained constant, according to the project's architect Ken Moeller, citing the careful calculating of energy costs that coincided with the code-compliant increase in pumps and filtration.

The bond funded just the tear down and reconstruction, not the ongoing operating costs.

Creating the eye-catching aesthetic component came after time spent with community members and assimilating the design with the surrounding neighborhood elements, as Moeller describes the collaboration.

"My particular approach was to make sure the facility extended a hand to the community," he says. "We wove it into the existing fabric ... It's a bit like stepping back in time."

It is a creative process Moeller refers to as "responsive architecture," with the clients' needs as a cornerstone.

Elements, such as the zero depth pool with a gradual entry, beckon toddlers to dip their toes in the water and establish a comfort level for parents and children alike.

Other amenities include shaded areas, more picnic tables, a three-foot pool depth that is optimal for swim lessons and a large staff room that doubles as a venue for community events.

"We felt very strongly that it's a family resource," says Moeller.

Sierra Elsken, 25, who has been the pool manager for the past four years, has seen firsthand the way the renovation has made the center even more of a community asset, since she started volunteering there 13 years ago.

"It seems much more open to the community. People all the time would say 'I didn't even know there was a pool here," she says of the place once shrouded in dense foliage.

"It seems to serve families better," she adds.

The city of Martinez will be recognized at the 2014 California and Pacific Southwest Recreation and Park Training Conference from March 5-7 in Ontario.

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