The Secaucus Swim Club is open for business. With Recreation Department employees still tweaking a few details, the gates opened on Saturday, May 23.
Attendance built slowly from an unusually chilly Memorial Day Saturday, picking up considerably on Tuesday and Wednesday when the mayor and Town Council opened up the pool for free from 3 to 7 p.m. as the temperature shot up.
Kristie Maldonado, 41, was among a handful of residents who had the entire spread to themselves on opening day Saturday. “I’ve been coming here my whole life,” she said, recalling changes over the years. “They put in new things: the slide, the boat, the playgrounds. The cabanas are new. The baby pool was just a big, round, cement pool, so all the kids stubbed their toes.”
Not anymore. The children’s section was transformed over the years into a safe, interactive water park. “The pool is beautiful,” said Maldonado. “Because they keep it nice and clean.”
“Why is it so cold, mom?” demanded Jodi Maldonado, 7. “I don’t think I’m going to swim today.”
“There’s no place like it on Earth. It’s just spectacular. There’s always something going on.” –Maria Grossi
“They don’t go to the same school but they’re summer friends,” explained Nicholas’s mom, Maria Grossi. “They’ve been friends since day care.”
The Grossis have been Secaucus residents for eight years. “We love the place,” said Maria. “There’s no place like it on Earth. It’s just spectacular. There’s always something going on. Every day’s a celebration.”
“Right now there’s no one here, but during the hot summer days it gets crowded,” said lifeguard Lucio Iroldi, 17, a few hours after the gates opened for the season. “Especially during special events like kids night, teens night, the Fourth of July. You can’t even walk around the pool because it’s so crowded.”
This is Iroldi’s second year as a lifeguard. “It’s a fun job. I love it,” he said from his perch above the main pool.
Lifeguards rotate positions every 30 minutes, according to Iroldi, between positions around the pool and the First Aid station, the diving pool, and the training pool, with breaks in between.
“You have to be 16 to be a lifeguard,” he said. “You have to take a two-week course. It’s $100. Training starts around the end of May.” Applicants have to swim laps and float carrying a 10 pound brick. “You have to take two written tests for CPR and basic lifeguard skills. And you have to pass a physical test. You have to save victims who are active, passive, and submerged.”
Claudia Pan, 17, serves in a clerical capacity at the pool. That means, “We keep an eye on the playground if there’s anybody here, and keep an eye on the back gate in case anybody tries to sneak in. When it is really hot there are so many kids here. The camps come too, on Wednesdays. Right now it’s just open weekends.”
“There are going to be more people once school ends and they’re open on weekdays,” said coworker Katherin Cardenas, 18.
“Usually on a day that we’re busy we have 14 lifeguards, and right now we have seven,” explained manager Dana Damato. “And we don’t even need all seven. There’s more staff than people here.”
A school teacher during the week, Damato baked cookies for the staff. “I’m like the mother hen here,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the best manager and they all know it.”
The quiet corner
Over at the far end of the lawn, away from the kids and the commotion, sat Kathy McCahill and Karen Ellerman in their lawn chairs, reading crime novels. McCahill had a Kindle and Ellerman relaxed over a hardcover book.
“This pool is for adults only,” explained McCahill. “Or you can be younger if you’re doing laps. The seniors use it, which is a great idea because you don’t have the kids splashing around. And sometimes people are not good on their feet or are a little nervous. We have a number of seniors that come here every year and we know each other for a long time. We bring our lunch with us. We maybe buy some dessert or something, some coffee. We’re always in and out [of the pool] throughout the day.”
“We come here for the events sometimes,” said Ellerman, who moved to Secaucus from Union City about 35 years ago. “Fourth of July for the fireworks. In September, the wine tasting.”
“That’s our favorite event at the pool,” said McCahill about the annual celebration of wine and song. “The one time that they’re allowed to have alcoholic beverages here at our pool.”
McCahill moved to Secaucus with her family 40 years ago. “We’ve been members of this pool since it opened in the ’70s,” she said. “At that time my kids were babies. They went on to become lifeguards, working here through college. And now I’m here. Still enjoying myself.”
On this first afternoon it was still too chilly for swimming, but hot summer days were right around the corner. “One time when they just put in the slide, it was so hot and humid that me and another senior went down and stood on line to go down with all the kids,” recalled McCahill. “There we were, these big gawks, standing on line. And we came down the slide. It was wonderful.”
Making it happen
Over at the spiral water slide, Recreation Department staff members were making last-minute adjustments to the mechanisms. “We came in this morning, it was down,” said Robert Liccardo, working with Juan Tous. “Were trying to tighten this bolt. There’s an o-ring in here that catches air if it’s not tight.”
As soon as they got the pressure up to snuff, they were off to unpack furniture on the new outdoor patio that was installed this year.
“Across the street [by the Recreation Center] we have the Meditation Garden,” said Pool Director John Schwartz. “The mayor decided we were going to put up the same type of area for people to sit and talk and hang around here. More for the seniors, because this is more for the senior area. There’s a new walkway we just put here, handicapped accessible.”
Several wicker couches and chairs are set off to one side on the lawn, around tables in an open circle. “There’s not going to be a covering,” said Schwartz. “We’re going to put a little fire pit in the middle here. It’s going to be nice.”
“Everybody thinks it’s easy to run this place and make it nice,” said Steve Cirone, a lifelong friend of Schwartz who was pitching in to help get the season off to a good start. “They don’t see behind the scenes. There’s always something breaking. To get this place up and running in time every year, to take care of all the little things, to make sure it happens – [Schwartz] does a great job.
“A lot of people come here,” said Cirone. “It’s a relaxing place. It shouldn’t be anything else.”
The pool is open weekends only until after June 20, then daily until Sept. 7 (Labor Day). Residents can sign up to the Secaucus Swim Club using Community Pass, available on the town website at www.secaucusnj.org. Click on the link for “Recreation Registration” in the left column.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.