- James Buck
- Inside the Hard'ack Pool dome
Early on a chilly morning in late October, three cars sat in the otherwise empty parking lot of the Hard'ack Recreation Area in St. Albans. In a few short months, maybe even weeks, the lot would be full, and the echo of chirping crickets would give way to the clatter of sledders, skiers and snowboarders on Aldis Hill, a popular winter destination for Franklin County families.
But this year, visitors will come not just for snow sports but also for what one local called the area's "best-kept secret": the new Hard'ack Pool.
The new pool isn't exactly shrouded in mystery. Financed by a $5 million bond that St. Albans City voters approved in 2021 to replace their aging pool on Aldis Street, the Hard'ack Pool opened in June to mild fanfare in the local media. But not until late September did it unveil its most novel asset: the massive, shiny white dome that covers it in colder months.
The inflatable structure helps keep the air a steamy 85 degrees and the water a relaxing 80 — even in the dead of winter. It allows the pool to stay open year-round — a boon to local swimmers of all ages and abilities, from casual loungers to competitive racers.
St. Albans recreation director Kelly Viens said she believes the Hard'ack Pool is the only all-season municipal pool of its kind in Vermont. As she walked through the pressurized revolving door from an adjoining building to give a reporter a tour of the pool, the whoosh of warm air filling the room, she couldn't hide her enthusiasm.
"You walk in here, and it's like, 'What?'" Viens said, laughing. "Because this pool was out all summer; we've been using it; we love it. Then we walked in here once the dome was on, and we were like, 'Oh, my God, it's like another world.'"
She pointed out the pool's various amenities: the six-lane lap pool, the diving well, the fitness program area, the open swim area. She's especially proud of the zero entry, a gradual slope built into the pool for easier access that resembles a beach's shoreline.
"It's so great for accessibility," Viens said, "and it's also great for little babies."
- James Buck
- A mushroom-shaped water fountain at the Hard'ack Pool
There are fountains: small ones that spurt water at ground level and a larger one in the shape of a mushroom. While their older children are in school, local parents bring their younger children to spend a few hours playing in the water.
It's where Amanda Laber and her 5-year-old homeschooled daughter, Octavia, spend some of their mornings. When she signed up Octavia for private lessons, Laber found out that the pool had a public swim time. Soon, they started coming on a more regular basis.
The pool is close to their home, Laber noted. "It helps get us out of the house," she said. "And it's nice to be able to do something local and not have to go to Burlington or Williston."
Danielle Kidder, her mother and her four young children traveled half an hour from Cambridge to splash around in the pool. The balmy conditions under the dome make it easy to jump in.
"The kids really enjoy it," Kidder said, referring to her 2-year-old son, 4.5-year-old twin sons and 9-year-old daughter, all of whom she homeschools. "It's a good physical outlet for them, and they love to swim, so this'll help them keep up with their swimming skills until summer."
Kidder and her family have only been to the pool twice, but she plans to purchase a $400 nonresident family membership and come more often.
Memberships for residents of St. Albans City and Georgia cost $300. Residents pay $8 for a single public swim session; nonresidents, $16.
On the evening of a different day, older children trained for the St. Albans Sharks Winter Swim Team. They clustered around their coach, Tommy Koldys, who wrote their exercises on a whiteboard and talked them through their warm-ups in the six-lane pool.
Diagonal to his position at the head of the six-lane pool stood Ann Hull, who had traveled to the pool from Enosburgh with her 14-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, who's been swimming in St. Albans since she was 6.
"I taught Tommy when he was a child," said Hull, who has volunteered with the swim team for 16 years, first as a parent and now as a grandparent.
And if the dome weren't here? "My grandchildren probably wouldn't be doing it," she said.
Melanie Dattilio agreed. She and Sandy Foisy, who both live in Georgia and have children on the swim team, said having a year-round pool this close makes all the difference.
"To have a pool close by now, it's a big draw," Dattilio said.
- James Buck
- The Hard'ack pool dome
Foisy, whose children swam at the Greater Burlington YMCA during the winter and whose family now has a Hard'ack Pool membership, added, "It's been a lot less stressful, being close to home."
"It's very enjoyable to see how much we can offer," aquatic director Isaac Bashaw said. Hard'ack Pool programs range from American Red Cross-affiliated swimming lessons to fitness programs such as Aqua FIT, aqua yoga and aquatic tai chi.
Viens estimated that the split between resident and nonresident visitors to the pool has been "about 50-50," noting that she and her team have welcomed people from beyond Franklin County.
"They'll say, 'We're just from over the border in New York, and we heard about this; we're here for the day,'" she said.
Those visitors started coming well before the cool weather and the installation of the dome, Viens noted, to take advantage of the Hard'ack Recreation Area's many outdoor activities.
"It's just a beautiful place," she said, pointing out the soccer field, the dog park, the hiking trails, the disc golf course. "We have 95 acres of land here, and to have all of these options is amazing."
As the sun set, a steady stream of visitors continued to enter the pool area. Some of the staff milled around, cleaning the floors or checking people in. Two staffers, Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans students Noah Allen and Maya Marshall, talked about how much they enjoy spending their afterschool time at the pool.
"I think I'm doing something that's helpful," Noah said of his position as a lifeguard and instructor. Similarly, Maya said the reward of working with children is great: "It's nice to see them improve; you feel really good about yourself when they start getting better."
Behind the front desk, water safety instructor administrator Dee Christie echoed the sentiments of her coworkers and pool visitors. She highlighted the staff's enthusiasm.
"We have a great team, a great community. I think we have some of the best instructors around," she said. "We take a lot of pride in what we do, and I think you can see it."