SOUTH MODESTO - Eager to swim at the Salvation Army's Red Shield Center in south Modesto, fidgety kids in bathing suits were less interested in speeches and photo ops at Thursday afternoon's celebration of the recent refurbishing of the center's 3,578-square-foot pool.
The kids eventually enjoyed a splash fest after the grown-ups honored Congressman Jeff Denham for kick-starting a $269,000 fundraising effort for the pool's make-over. The ceremony transitioned into refreshments but most of the kids directly jumped into the pool.
Denham said he was excited to see the pool project come to fruition.
"This is about building a community," said Denham. "When you have a community that's in need, it's up to the leaders in the community to rally the rest of the community and help to support that need."
The congressman then got a closer look at the pool as he visited with the contractor on the project.
At the close of the 2015 summer season the county's Environmental Resources Department informed Salvation Army leaders that the 1970 pool - the only public pool in south Modesto - needed to undergo overdue renovations with re-plastering and repairs or face permanent closure.
Paul Caruso, a 40-year member and now chairman of the Red Shield Center Council, said the pool had been twice refurbished in its history but said over 40 years of chlorine leeching into the cement apron resulted in spalling and cracking.
"Up until a few months ago our swimming pool was in a terrible condition," said Lt. Quinton Markham, Corps Officer at The Salvation Army Modesto Red Shield Center. "We started this project a few months ago with little more than a dream and a prayer."
The center "barely had two nickels to rub together," he said, when Rep. Denham heard about the center's need and offered to organize an April 7 charity basketball game. A team of elected officials like Assemblyman Adam Gray, County Supervisor Terry Withrow and Modesto City Councilman Mani Grewal played against local kids ranging from 12 to early 20's. The game raised $40,850.
Donations resulting from publicity of the game and the center's needs, brought the community total to $269,000. Fundraising efforts included the street corner sale of a May Kids Day special section produced by the Ceres Courier, Oakdale Leader and Turlock Journal.
"That basketball game is what got us started. So behind me you're looking at the results of those prayers and a lot of effort from many good-hearted people. It's becoming more and more obvious that the Lord continues to bless us here at the Red Shield over and over and over again."
Demolition of the pool began April 16 with a $238,000 contract with Ripon pool contractor Rob Burkett. The old deck was jackhammered out and a new one poured after the pool was re-plumbed, deck drains were re-routed and a new pump system installed. A vortex slide was also installed. It opened for community use on July 8.
Markham said the Red Shield Center buildings, which opened in 1970 at 1649 Las Vegas Street, are also in sore need of some attention. The board approved improvements, including meeting compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
"We're going to create a safe and controlled entry point at our main gate over here," said Lt. Markham. "We're going to refurbish and expand our restrooms and make them ADA compliant. We're going to expand our kitchen and food storage areas to improve the quality of our food service to the children and the families that visit this center. We're going to improve and expand our recreational fitness space and we're going to improve the quality of our childcare area and our teen drop-in center. We have a ways to go but this all started with an idea and a basketball game."
Officials at the center say the pool is important. It not only helps draw kids and families into programs at the center and offers swimming lessons but it is a safe alternative to staying cool in the hot summer months. Maria Arellano, a Red Shield office staff member for the past 18 years, said the "The Latino popu¬lation has a big fear of water and luckily with swim lessons a lot of the kids benefit from it."
The pool is also a draw for kids and families who eventually take advantage of other programs.
"Once they come through the doors they actually say wow, you have basketball, you have a computer lab, you have baseball, you have boxing,": said Arellano. "It opens their eyes. A lot of people will say, ‘we didn't know you had any of this."
The grand total of all the work comes to about $650,000 with the Salvation Army headquarters supporting the finish of the project.