Richmond, Calif., recently restored its Municipal Natatorium, turning the 1920s-era facility into a modern, green recreational building. Known as The Plunge, the newly reopened indoor pool features operable windows for ventilation, and solar panels that provide electricity and heat the saline water.

When it was first built, the natatorium was a state-of-the-art, two-story building with an indoor warm water swimming pool, a fountain, observation balconies, and an open truss ceiling. More than twice the size of an Olympic pool, The Plunge's pool was so large that scuba diving and kayaking were taught. However, through the years, the city struggled to meet the costs of staffing and maintenance. Most major improvements were deferred, and seismic retrofitting became financially unfeasible. The Plunge closed in 2001.

A local nonprofit group, Richmond Friends of Recreation, began campaigning for donations to restore the old facility. The group and the city combined redevelopment money, funds from a regional voter measure, grants and donations to pay for its $7.5 million restoration.

Berkeley, Calif.-based Todd Jersey Architecture developed and implemented the renovation plan. The project included restoring the original natatorium structure; renovating the 10,000-square-foot swimming pool; rebuilding the changing, bath and shower facilities; and restoring the neoclassical front of the building. The team also installed 30 kilowatts of solar panels for electricity, 300 operable windows, a hyper-efficient boiler and sophisticated pool pumps.

Berkeley, Calif.-based Sun Light & Power installed 3,500 square feet of solar hot water panels from locally based Heliodyne for the pool's 324,000 gallons of saline water. The water is disinfected using an ultraviolet system instead of chlorine. Other sustainable features include new technology for water conservation, a repurposed historic mushroom fountain, and a victory garden on one side of the structure for growing food for the community.

Richmond celebrated The Plunge's reopening in August, and the Richmond Recreation Department resumed classes for recreational swimming, lap swimming, and water fitness, as well as instruction in canoe and kayak handling.

Project: Municipal natatorium restoration
Jurisdiction: Richmond, Calif.
Agency: Recreation Department
Vendors: Berkeley, Calif.-based Sun Light & Power; Richmond, Calif.-based Heliodyne; Berkeley, Calif.-based Todd Jersey Architecture
Date completed: August 2010
Cost: $7.5 million