The municipal pool at Westchester Park was the site of one of several kickoffs to summer celebrations held throughout Los Angeles June 21 that marked 100 years of swimming and water-related activities in the city.

Several swimmers donned antique bathing suits from bygone eras as well as more contemporary fashions as city officials commemorated the centennial of aquatics in the city.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, as well as representatives from the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and Kaiser Permanente at the pool ceremony. The managed care consortium made a $265,000 donation to the Recreation and Parks Aquatics Division as part of “Operation Splash” that will pay for swimming lessons for 6,000 low-income children, teens and adults as well as funding for junior lifeguards at 48 participating pools.

Dr. Benjamin Chu, group president of Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii, noted that a recent California Health Interview survey found that 77 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Los Angeles County engage in less than one hour of physical activity every day.

“Kaiser Permanente is committed to total health,” Chu said. “Swimming and other aquatic sports provide excellent physical activity opportunities.”

Rosendahl mentioned other improvements that were previously added to the park, including a skateboard facility, and how the swimming anniversary not only spotlights the Westchester pool but the entire park.

In 2010, the municipal pool reopened after it was rehabilitated with a new plumbing and heating system. A new deck filtration system was installed, as well as a new changing room, sinks and showers.

“This was great day,” Rosendahl said. “We’ve spent over $2 million in this park and it’s only enhanced it.

“To see this event, which kicks off the summer program, was great and I’m so glad that the mayor picked this park to symbolically open all of the pools in Los Angeles.”

Westchester Park Advisory Board President Scott Carni scanned the pool area, where dozens of children and young adults frolicked.

“It is always so exciting to see the pools open,” he said. “So many children in this city do not have the luxury or the opportunity to go swimming on a daily basis.

“It’s a very exciting day every year.”

Villaraigosa thanked Chu and his organization for its donation and for its sponsorship of the event.

“This year, as we celebrate 100 years of aquatics, Kaiser Permanente will continue to help Angelenos thrive by offering swim safety programs that encourage swimming as a daily activity for healthier lifestyles,” he said.

Rosendahl called swimming “a wellness strategy” and he is hopeful that “Operation Splash” will not be limited to the hotter months of the year.

“I’m also challenging the city to do this not for just the summer, but all year round,” he said. “We’re in Southern California; why not try to make it year round?”

The councilman said the city needed to create more partnerships with the public sector as he did with the building of the Westchester Skate Plaza last year in order to sustain recreational initiatives.

City funds contributed to building the skate plaza, with $225,000 coming from Quimby funds, money that developers in council districts contribute to park enhancement projects. In addition, the Annenberg Foundation donated $125,000.

“It’s always great when taxpayers and the private sector can combine to engage in these healthy, preventive strategies,” Rosendahl said.

Many parents are not able to send their children to summer camps due to the struggling economy, as park supervisors in District 11 have reported, so having swimming and other activities in the park that children can enjoy free of charge or at minimal expense is important for a community to have in place, the councilman added.

Carni said having swimming related activities as well as softball, lacrosse and soccer at the park is an initiative that park officials have been working on as part of the park’s improvements.

“Bringing more programming to the park is always one of our biggest priorities,” he said. “We really want to help service the community with what they need to keep their children busy, keep them active, and keep the healthy.

“The pool is a big part of our plan and we’re really excited about that.”

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