Is the glass — or, in this instance, the pool — half empty or half full?
Depends on who you ask.
When it comes to the sun-soaked swimmers who come out every summer to the Tenino Quarry Pool, the glass might as well be half empty as, for a second consecutive year, the city-owned pool will be closed due to construction and continued COVID-19 health mandates.
But to thespians and art lovers alike, the glass this summer could look half full.
With the quarry’s kiddie pool drained, the City of Tenino is looking for ways to bring about new recreational opportunities to the venue. Mayor Wayne Fournier said the city is getting in touch with local musical ensembles and theater groups to hold performances in the drained pool and use it as a performance space.
Nonprofit group Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre, Fournier said, will host a summer performance of “Adventures of Frog and Toad,” based on the book series, and the city is in early talks with the Olympia Symphony Orchestra to possibly host a performance in the drained pool.
These performances, if they happen, Fournier said, would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We’re going to try to utilize the space while we have it to do some performances there, which is pretty exciting,” he said.
Back in the pioneering days of the 1800s, the area where the drained pool is today was used as a working sandstone quarry, according to the city’s website. Quarrymen reportedly struck a freshwater spring that quickly filled the pit with water and, to this day, equipment still rests at the bottom of the hundred-foot quarry.
Today, alongside its kiddie pool, the quarry is used as a “low-cost, family-friendly recreation spot.”
This summer, the wall that divides the shallow children’s section and the deep quarry pool will get some much-needed attention.
“We’re putting out a bid for construction to renovate the kiddie pool in the quarry, probably in the next two weeks, so when we do reopen next year it will be newly renovated, new concrete, hopefully have some new water features,” Fournier said.
Pool operators will also be dropping the pool level by about 6 feet.
Annually, the pool costs about $40,000 to operate, mostly in maintenance and water costs, and the city attempts to break even on that through admission sales. During construction, the city will be looking at ways to bring more efficiencies to the kiddie pool, which cycles through hundreds of thousands of gallons of water throughout the summer.
The drained kiddie pool, Fournier said, opens up the opportunity to host many different community events. Recently, he reached out to Olympia Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Jennifer Hermann, to float the idea of hosting a concert series there.
She’ll be touring the site Monday and reporting to the symphony’s board on Wednesday.
“The idea of it is intriguing and exciting. I really hope we can make it work. This is an opportunity I’d love to grab because it won’t happen again in the near future,” Hermann said. She recounted Fournier’s call: “He said it’s something he’d been dreaming about for ten years, and said this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because there’ll be no water.”
The Olympia Symphony has hosted many outdoor concerts in the past, prior to the coronavirus, but nothing like this, Hermann said. They’ve also been interested in performing in more venues outside of Olympia and its suburbs, and this would provide just such an opportunity.
When she goes to visit the site next week, Hermann said she’ll be considering multiple variables prior to deciding, including the size of the space, how many people they could fit, the footprint of the actual stage, accessibility of installing a sound system, if they can follow COVID-19 health guidelines and the overall shading of the area.
“Whenever we’re outside, we always have an overhead shade. The brass and wind instruments aren’t quite as sensitive, but the wood instruments — the violin, viola, cello and bass — can get really damaged in direct sunlight,” she said.
There would be some major roadblocks in the way, Hermann points out: they’d need major community support and funding. Though the symphony has been hosting virtual concerts and performances during the pandemic, they’ve largely gone a year and half without ticket sales.
They’ll need to be able to pay their performers. Many of them throughout the school year have found work as substitutes for public school music teachers. The orchestra is also hosting its hopefully final virtual concert on June 27; the performance will be called “Together.”
Though the concert will be played outside, the orchestra will also need to practice indoors, which is still a major health challenge and risk.
“It’s not just about the final product, it’s the road to get there,” she said.