Independence High School sophomore Paige Taber loves being on the swim team, but hasn't totally enjoyed the pools she and her teammates have had to crowd into.

The roughly 100-person swim team practices in a six-lane pool, which gets a little too close for comfort most days.

"It's very difficult, especially it being really shallow," she said of the Lakeside Aquatics pool the team utilizes. "You can't pick up your speed, and then you have other people to worry about."

But with the official grand opening Thursday of the Kern High School District Aquatic Complex, those cramped backstrokes and butterfly strokes will be a thing of the past.

The district unveiled its aquatics complex — the first pool to be opened in more than 100 years — at a ribbon-cutting ceremony with administrators, trustees and other community members. The facility is located at 7301 Old River Road, near Independence High School.

The facility is designed to support local and regional competitive events for swimming, diving and water polo programs, explained Dean McGee, associate superintendent of educational services and innovative programs. The water polo program was just recently approved by the district, and nine to 10 of the district's comprehensive schools will launch it in the fall.

According to the district, the KHSD Aquatic Complex includes: 

  • High-quality stainless-steel pool design and fabrication.
  • Olympic-size swimming pool: 50-meter course with nine lanes; 25-yard course with 18 lanes; 7 feet deep.
  • Diving and warmup pool: two 1-meter diving boards; 25-yard course with nine lanes; about 14 feet deep.
  • State-of-the-art timing system and scoreboard.
  • Lighting to support competitive nighttime events.
  • Large classroom for instruction and meetings.
  • Covered stadium seating for more than 500 spectators.
  • Large grass area for team encampments.

The push to have a complex such as this has been a district goal for some time, McGee said. It currently rents facilities from the city of Bakersfield, Bakersfield College and other local pools just so students have a place to practice and compete. Additionally, most valley championships are held in the Fresno area due to a lack of local aquatic facilities that meet criteria to host large-scale tournaments.

"Since it's been 100 years since we've built any pools, it didn't seem logical to try to put tiny little pools per campus because there's no way to do them all at once," McGee said. "The thought was to build an aquatic complex where we could have multiple schools practicing, continue to rent the water that we're renting so we get more kids able to get into the water and swim or dive."

Alison Abrams, head swim coach at Independence High School, said her team will now be able to use 10 lanes, giving swimmers more space, a more competitive pool and one that allows for diving. 

"It feels like a new beginning for our team," Abrams explained. "If they offer the pool to club teams around here, I hope that more kids in our area will be involved in aquatics, and with the addition of water polo, it will bring out more kids to swimming."

She added she is waiting for the go-ahead from the district office to begin using the facility for practices.

A date has not been announced yet, but the first meet at the aquatic complex is expected to take place this month. With the complex so close to her school, Taber hopes more students will stop by and cheer on various teams during tournaments.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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