“Oh yeah, the best part of the job is the swim lessons,” says Al Hardy, senior swim instructor at the newly reopened Hamilton Recreation Center. We were standing at the corner of his new pool, where the San Francisco native worked for 20 years before renovations closed down the lanes two years ago. The center opened back up for business on March 6th. During my visit within weeks of its rebirth it was filled with community members using every aspect of its varied fitness facilities. Clearly, I’m not the only one that’s stoked my neighborhood has a swimming pool once again.
San Francisco has approximately 808,976 people living within its city limits. SF Parks and Recreation operates nine public swimming pools, each a major boon to their communities, which if you average them out amount to 89,886 people per pool. That’s a lot of floaty toys.
Hardy is happy that once again, the Western Addition neighborhood can take a dip. We watched local high school swim teams race up and down the lanes- the swim teacher himself swam competitively through his youth and his years at Lincoln High School- and Hardy tells me “the kids love it here. But a lot of people that come through say that it’s long overdue.” Admission to the pool is only a dollar for kids under 18, five for adults- manageable even for the families of Western Addition, where a lot of the city’s low income housing is situated.
Four out of five babies agree: Hamilton Rec Center beats bathtime
The changes wrought through two years of renovations constitute a definite upgrade in the center’s services. “The pool is the major draw,” says Cherease Coates, one of the center’s fitness directors. Maybe that’s the centerpiece, but the facilities were all pretty impressive, starting with sprawling outside playground areas, each cluster appropriate for a different age group and foam floored- free of the sand that can cause health concerns.
There were major changes inside, too. “This is a total 180 from what we had before,” Coates comments as we survey the sweeping, floor length windows that illuminate the swimming pool where before stood a blank wall.
In the gym, a new ecosystem of pickup hoop games was already in full flourish, along with a schedule that can accommodate casual games whenever the center is open. An adult league is in the works for this summer.
“We’ve been talking to the community to see what they want from this place,” Coates tells me. “It’s important to them to have this time to play.” The teams on-court were framed nicely by the new facelift; adjustable backboards, perfect for when the little ones want to ball out, and new paint everywhere, with much of the bleacher space removed for reasons Coates doesn’t quite understand.
And then I saw it. Sparkling, pristine- the fitness room. Free weights, cardio machines- an elliptical? Compared to the “makeshift” setup Coates recalls from before the renovations, this is major. The equipment is available for free public use everyday -- Hamilton holds special, women-only hours on Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.- noon.
I left high on the new center’s possibilities. Rooms for my next birthday party? A full schedule of fitness and art classes? A reason to ditch my high priced gym membership and get fit with my community? Welcome back to the neighborhood, Hamilton.
Hamilton Rec Center
1900 Geary, SF