Tony Ahern
   After a half-century of good ideas, worthy efforts, and no-chance votes, it's finally a reality. Madras has its swimming pool, and it's about to be unveiled.
   The Madras Aquatic Center is going to soon be introduced to the eager public over a series of open houses, celebrations and free swim parties. Officials with the MAC have put some thinking into the unveiling, knowing it was too big and too important to fit into one day. Instead, they have tailored the kickoff to various groups -- ranging from kids that can't wait to seniors who've waited long enough -- over the first four days of February.
   It's been a long wait. A four-day Grand Opening is justified, and a nice idea.
   Madras has gotten its hopes up and subsequently dashed over various pool efforts in nearly every decade since the end of World War II. Every effort failed, and most failed miserably. In 1967, a sound proposal to put an indoor two-pool facility south of the MHS gym went down 745 to 309. The voters must have been scared off by the huge price tag -- $300,000 (about as much as the landscaping likely cost on the MAC).
   Other pool efforts were wrapped in creative recreation district proposals, but they flopped as well.
   More than a few generations of Jefferson County kids -- those whose folks couldn't regularly take them to the heavenly warm pools of Kah-Nee-Ta -- had to learn to swim in the frigid waters of the Cove, the farm water reservoir called Haystack, in irrigation ditches, or in two-stroke pop-up pools that left big rings of dead grass come September.
   All that history was pushed aside in November 2004, when by a razor-thin 92 votes out of 4,492, a different answer was finally elicited to the pool question, a whispered: "yes."
   Looking at that marvelous facility on the hillside makes one think that maybe it was a good thing that all those efforts for a smaller-scale town pool failed. It was a tradeoff of sorts: we eschewed an open-air pool downtown somewhere, which would likely have been rundown and in need of replacement by now, for a deluxe aquatic center costing on the north side of $9 million. We had to wait 60 years or so, but it seems to have been worth it.
   Originally, it was thought the pool may be in use by 2006. That didn't happen. A few hiccups along the way, including a regional building surge that prompted too-high bids, pushed construction back. The delays may have cost a season, may have added to construction costs, but few will care about all that come February.
   The beautiful beacon on the hill -- magnificent at night, with its lit-up wall of windows -- will be a calling card for our community now and for years to come. It will change lives for kids and families, help keep our entire population healthier, and substantially enrich our community's livability.
   Congratulations, MAC board -- more outstanding volunteers, the few, making things happen for the masses -- for shepherding this project to light.
   But mostly, congratulations to Madras. The wait is over. Enjoy your pool.
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