The oldest and largest existing public pool in the Bay Area shuttered its doors ten years ago due to structural concerns but has re-emerged like a phoenix from the ashes this weekend as the greenest pool in the country! The Richmond Plunge has long been a stable icon of a city with an ever-changing identity. Now the pool represents not just renewal but a leap forward in sustainability with a historic preservation that saves energy, and a huge 80 panel solar thermal system that saves water and chemicals by using saline water. And they did it all without swimming in red ink as the reconstruction and upgrades were all done well under budget.

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Using salt water for a public pool is not new– the famous Sutro Baths on the San Francisco shoreline used salt water in its massive pools over a hundred years ago. The idea is resurfacing as a very sustainable alternative to current chemical-dependent pool systems. The breakthrough systems design allows the pool to go without chlorine and municipal drinking water. Kids get to swim without goggles or concern of exposure to harsh chemicals. Salt water is treated with a state of the art UV filter system and then sent through a heat exchanger powered by a 3500 square foot solar thermal system. The panels and controls are manufactured just up the street by Heliodyne. After being heated by the sun, the H2O goes into the 324,000 gallon pool via super-efficient pumps– getting a big boost from the installed solar electric array.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 the pool was shuttered, needing seismic upgrades that the city was unable to pay for. A dedicated group was formed to raise awareness and money for the iconic building. Both its historic value and cultural importance drove a dedicated population, with help from Todd Jersey Architects and Sun and Light Power, to reclaim the facility and make it a national model for sustainable swimming facilities.

+ Richmond Plunge

+ Todd Jersey Architecture

Photos © Ellen Gailing