DANVILLE -- More than 15 years ago, Heather Johnston was a student and top swimmer at San Ramon Valley High School -- and even then, she knew the aging pool that she trained in was well past its prime.
Back then, the pool only had one diving board, and the pool deck wouldn't drain, she recalls: "so we had these little puddles of swamp on it." And the tiles would chip off easily. In fact, she even kept one tile, which her swim coach Jon Leach, signed for her as a parting souvenir before she graduated.
"We thought it would be a collector's piece," she joked.
Today, Johnston has been a swimming teacher and water polo coach for her alma mater for more than eight years, and she says it's exciting to see her students swimming finally in a new state-of-the-art pool complex at her school.
The first month after its opening, "I'd felt like pinching myself," she said. "And I'd just stand there, thinking it's just beautiful. But I'd have these feelings of sorrow because there were so many great swimmers and water polo players that didn't get to see this, and so it was a bittersweet thing."
The oldest high school in the San Ramon Valley school district, San Ramon Valley High celebrated the official completion of its new $3.3 million state-of-the-art aquatic complex last month. The long-awaited project got under way in January 2012, with the pool opening to swimmers about a year ago, but the finishing touches of construction were finally completed in the past couple of months. Now the project is finally complete, with the building of a covered main entrance gate and the ticket booth, which faces the parking lots along Danville Boulevard.
"They've been waiting a long time for this, so this is huge," said Principal Ruth Steele. "It's really important for our students to have a home for swimming, that fully meets their needs."
The original pool was built in 1952, explained district spokesman Terry Koehne: "It was just old and antiquated. It was not equipped to handle the kinds of things required now."
The previous pool's dimensions were 25 feet by 25 feet. The new pool is 35 feet by 25 feet, spacious enough for 14 standard swim lanes, two deepwater water polo courses and three diving boards, he said.
"Now we can host major competitions at the school," Koehne said, and not just those at the school, but also for aquatic club sports in the town.
The town of Danville also contributed $500,000 toward the project, which will allow the pool to be used eight weeks per year for a variety of classes, including swimming classes and exercise programs.
In addition, the pool complex has been equipped with an expanded pool deck, a new digital scoreboard, timer and high-efficiency mechanical systems and chlorinating systems.
Students are happy because they don't have to travel to other schools' pools to train anymore as they did for two years, Johnston said: "They are just excited, and they're proud of it."
In the past five years, the school has built a new gymnasium, an auxiliary gym and tennis courts, and it plans to work on its baseball field and bleachers, as well as build about 40 new classrooms to replace its older ones in coming years, Steele explained.
"We've been around construction for a very, very long time," Johnston said of all the work done to upgrade the school's athletic facilities, "but it was sure worth the wait."
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.