Indoor pool to be operated by YMCA, with weekend access for all Henrico residents
A $10 million indoor pool in eastern Henrico County is ready for community use after a surprise announcement that it would be named for longtime Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton.
The reveal came Tuesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony held by officials with Henrico and the YMCA of Greater Richmond that followed a year and a half of construction.
County Manager John A. Vithoulkas set the stage for the announcement by paying tribute to Thornton and his tireless advocacy for a community pool. Then, as Vithoulkas announced the naming of the Frank J. Thornton YMCA Aquatic Center, a large banner was lifted to show the bold, white lettering above the entrance.
“Whatever I do, it represents humanity,” Thornton told a gathering of officials and project supporters. “Although my name is up there, for which I am forever grateful, a lot of this belongs to each of you.”
The Frank J. Thornton YMCA Aquatic Center, at 3201 Watts Lane, was built with $10 million from Henrico and will be operated by the YMCA of Greater Richmond.
The 20,000-square-foot pool-only facility will open to YMCA members, beginning Friday, Sept. 11. Henrico residents with or without a YMCA membership will be able to swim on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, starting Saturday, Sept. 19. A schedule and information are available at ymcarichmond.org.
The facility features an eight-lane, 25-yard pool and a warm-water instructional pool with beach-style entry, a spray area and a water slide. The center also includes family locker rooms, retractable spectator seating and parking.
The aquatic center is located along the North Laburnum Avenue corridor, beside the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and across from the Fairfield Area Library.
In remarks, Thornton recalled advice from his grandmother when he explained how he had been unsuccessful in getting a pool included in plans for the recreation center, which opened in 2011.
“She said, if you can’t get a whole loaf of bread, then get a half,” Thornton said. “This day, the aquatic center represents the other half of the loaf. As you can see, this beautiful building behind me offers such great lessons to our young people. If you really believe in something, commit yourself to work hard for it. Don’t give up or accept something second best. If obstacles are in your way, find a way to overcome this.”
Thornton has represented the Fairfield District since 1996. He and Tuckahoe District Supervisor Patricia S. O’Bannon are the longest-serving, active members of Henrico’s Board of Supervisors.
Vithoulkas praised Thornton’s legacy of service to the community, particularly those less fortunate, despite the harsh challenges he faced growing up in segregated Richmond. He credited the longtime supervisor with sharing a vision that has brought about $75 million in investment in services and amenities, including the new aquatics center, to the North Laburnum corridor.
“Without a doubt, state-of-the-art buildings like these cannot happen without money, without equipment and other resources,” Vithoulkas said. “But they also do not happen without really good people. People drive the change.”
Tim Joyce, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Richmond, praised Thornton for his “long, servant leadership” and said it was an honor to put his name on a YMCA.
“Our hope is that this aquatic center will not only open new pathways to joy and development for Henrico County residents, but that it will also serve as a testament to the Y’s commitment to equity in community development,” he said.
Vithoulkas called the facility’s opening a milestone in Henrico’s efforts to make the county drown-proof.
“With this facility and through our partnerships with the YMCA of Greater Richmond, Henrico County Public Schools and our Division of Recreation and Parks, every child will learn to swim by the time they finish second grade,” he said. “These skills will help build their bodies and minds, instilling a confidence that will serve them throughout their lives.”