One by one, they left. And they
weren’t coming back. After enjoying many years of
sun-splashed swimming in Centennial Park, the people of Wilmette,
Ill., began heading elsewhere, to the likes of Skokie, Northbrook,
Highland Park and other Chicago suburbs.
The pools“were on the verge of falling apart, really,” says
Centennial’s manager, Terry Juliar. “Our residents were
going elsewhere to have fun.”
Clearly,action was needed. Commissions were formed, hearings were held. A
three-year process ended on June 8, with the gala opening of the
Centennial Family Aquatic Center, a waterpark featuring an
11,000-square-foot activity pool with slides and play features, a
50-meter lap pool, a diving well with boards and drop slides, and a
zero-depth wading pool.
But it almost didn’t happen.
After all those hearings, the recommendation came back: Build a year-round
indoor complex, perfect for snowy Chicago. But residents spoke up
— “overwhelmingly,” says Juliar — saying
they wanted another outdoor facility, even one open only about
three months a year.
Now people have turned their cars
around, coming from Glenview, Evanston, Winnetka and Kenilworth to
Centennial, located about 20 miles north of Chicago, about three
miles from Lake Michigan. The aquatics center, which had about
60,000 patrons last year and never more than 83,000 in
Juliar’s 24 years there, surged to 150,000 this past season
— and from less than 100 employees to more than
The complex is big news. There was a big story in The Chicago Tribune.
A funny thing happened, however, on the way to the 21st century: The same people
who had stopped coming turned sentimental when the aging,
29-year-old facility was closing last year.
“The last two, three days, people came back to reminisce,” Juliar
says. “Some of the older people were saying, ‘I had two
kids who grew up here. …’
“People were crying. But there were cracks. It was like a sieve. It was
time to go.”
But not before longtime members took a little piece of old-time Wilmette with them.
“On the last night, we invited everyone to take a lounge chair home at 9
o’clock,” Juliar says. “It saved us a lot of
work, and everyone got a remembrance.”