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Originally published Friday, September 20, 2013 at 8:39 PM

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At last, a sparkly new community center for Rainier Beach

Seattle Parks and Recreation will open the $25 million Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool to the public for the first time Sunday afternoon.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool Grand Opening

Sunday, 2-5 p.m.

8825 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle WA 98118

Activities: Tours, music, refreshments, class sign-ups

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Three years ago in the rundown Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool, buckets caught water leaks, and disabled people had to use a difficult ramp to get to the dank, sunless gym in the basement.

“It was a definite teardown,” said recreation center coordinator Martha Winther.

The center was leveled in 2011, and its $25 million replacement will be revealed Sunday.

Everything is on the 48,500-square-foot center’s main floor, where natural light pours into every space and a bold interior design welcomes every visitor. The only hint of the past are salvaged wooden beams that decorate the center’s exterior and interior walls.

The building uses a long list of eco-friendly elements such as natural ventilation, a rainwater harvesting system that supplies 90 percent of toilet water, and a geothermal energy system. Solar panels do most of the work of warming water for a large lap pool and a recreational pool. The latter includes a shallow baby wading pool, a corkscrewing water slide with two 360-degree turns, and playful water sprays above a “lazy river.”

A giant, three-dimensional hand designed by artists Roy McMakin and Jeffry Mitchell floats from the ceiling and points to the main desk, where staff can help people register for exercise, music, art and cooking classes. Fall classes include instruction in hip-hop dancing, ukulele and frosting decoration.

Police Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin’s locally famous chess lessons also will be taught at the center.

The aquatics manager, Kathy Whitman, expects the swimming courses to be the most popular, though. Whitman said the Rainier Beach Community Center had the most swimming students of any community center in the city in 2010.

“That was an amazing stat to me,” said Whitman. “And we want to make sure that dollars don’t stand in the way of access to the pools.”

Those who qualify as low-income are eligible not only for a 50 percent discount on classes, but also for a Seattle Parks scholarship that can pay as much as another 30 percent of the cost of instruction, Whitman said.

The pools also are ready to host women-only swimming lessons to accommodate students whose religion doesn’t allow them to swim when men are present.

Visitors Sunday won’t be able to swim yet — a rolling public opening of the pools begins Monday — but there will be tours, musical performances, break dancing, a Vietnamese lion dance and light refreshments to celebrate the facility’s grand opening from 2 to 5 p.m.

In attendance will be staff from the five nonprofits Seattle Parks has contracted to offer services: Bike Works, the Southeast Seattle Community Youth Orchestra, Associated Recreational Council, Atlantic Street Family Center, and East African Community Services.

The $25 million spent to build the new community center, immediately to the west of Rainier Beach High School, east of South Shore K-8 and south of South Lake High School, came from general-obligation bonds and real-estate excise-tax revenues.

When Mayor Mike McGinn announced he would devote $20 million to the project in 2010, he also proposed deep cuts in the 2011 city budget that would lay off more than 200 city workers. The proposed cuts came amid a $67 million revenue shortfall.

The city eventually passed a 2011 budget that cut 300 city staff positions.

McGinn admitted in a public address about his 2011 budget at the old Rainier Beach Community Center that, as difficult as the cuts would be to bear, the city needed to follow through on construction to help correct long-standing injustices in underserved neighborhoods.

McGinn said he’s pleased that the community center is opening up on schedule.

“That community has a lot of kids that face a lot of challenges,” McGinn said. “I’m glad we can now open this up to them.”

Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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