Monroeville pool staff, patrons reminisce during the pool’s probable last season |
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Michael DiVittorio

Jenn Antonucci gazed into the blue, rippling waters of Bel-Aire Pool in Monroeville on Labor Day as members and guests splashed about with their pets.

It was the closing of the season, including the annual dog swim at the municipal-owned community recreation site.

“This is what I’ve known for 23 years,” said Antonucci, pool manager and Gateway Middle School teacher. “It hasn’t set in for me that it could potentially be the last year. So this is (still) happy for me. I love this part.”

Municipal officials are considering a $956,000 purchase offer from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) to acquire the property for its widening project.

Council is expected to advertise an ordinance regarding the potential agreement this month, and could adopt it in October.

The 10-acre site, which has an assessed value of $996,000, includes a regulation-size swimming pool with a diving board, concession stand, full bathhouse and a baby pool. Shaded basketball courts and two sand volleyball courts are also on the property.

Municipal Manager Tim Little said if council does not approve the deal by the end of the year, the property could be reassessed.

The PTC widening project will extend from mileposts 57 to 67 and includes portions of Monroeville, Murrysville, Hempfield, Penn, North Huntingdon townships and Manor, Irwin and North Irwin boroughs.

Antonucci, 37, of Trafford said she’s hopeful to get one more season since nothing has been finalized yet.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “The uncertainty on both sides makes me hopeful for at least one more year. We know how to run a pool. We don’t know when the turnpike’s coming through.”

Ryan Tucek worked at the pool from 1997 through 2014. He served concessions, worked as a lifeguard and became a manager.

Tucek recalled a time a few years ago when a mechanical issue nearly caused the pool to close. His experience saved the day.

“There was a morning no one could get in,” he said. “The chlorine was off and I knew exactly what the problem was, so I changed the tank even though I wasn’t working here anymore. I fixed it real quick (and) they were ready to open that day.”

Tucek’s sons, Jordan, 8, and Zachary, 5, are on the swim team. Daughter, Victoria, 2, also enjoys the water.

“There’s not many public pools,” said Tucek, 37. “I live out in Penn Township now, and everyone has a pool in their backyard. You can see about 12 pools from my back deck. Everyone says, ‘You should get one.’ I say, ‘No.’ I come here and bring my kids here. We came home early just so we could be here (on Labor Day) just in case it is the last (swim). It’s sad.”

About 10,000 people use the pool from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The dog swim started in the 1990s under the direction of Michele Ferrence, who served as pool manager from 1991 through 2003.

She has fond memories of Bel-Aire’s special events.

“We had great sand volleyball tournaments,” said Ferrence, 68, of Cranberry. “The Monroeville Marine fitness challenge will forever be important to me. We had dive-in movies. We had birthday parties. People could rent the pool. We had Battle of the Guard competitions.”

“Those special events brought even more people into the pool. My generation and my kids all grew up here. It’s kind of emotional for us. We were here every day. It’s difficult to say goodbye. All of those things make it what it is. I’ll say, ‘is.’ I don’t want to be past-tense here.”

The pool was dedicated in 1974 and is located in the municipality’s fourth ward.

D.J. Zappa, 56, of Monroeville was at the pool with Carmen, a 6-year-old yellow Labrador.

They’ve been coming to swim the past three years.

“A lot of people don’t have a place to take (dogs to swim),” Zappa said. “There’s always nice people here. We come here a few times, mostly just for the dog. If it would close, I would like to see Monroeville take the money and build a community pool centrally located for all the residents. It’s money they weren’t expecting.”

Many swimmers said they will have fond memories of the place.

“I honestly couldn’t be more sad that Bel-Aire is closing,” said Jessica Wagner of Murrysville, a Gateway graduate and former Bel-Aire Barracuda.

Wagner said most of her childhood and teenage memories involved the pool.

“I’m glad I was able to take my daughter for a couple years before it closed. I’m still proud to say my name’s still on the record board for the mixed ages butterfly relay. I’m glad I was able to take a picture of that before it’s gone, too,” Wagner said. “I know this pool was so special to so many people, and I’m definitely not the only one who is emotional about it closing.”

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