By Kaelanne Jordan
After not being in use since 2000, the newly reconstructed Mt St Benedict Swimming Pool was blessed Friday, March 18 and is now open to the public.
The pool at Mt St Benedict has a long-standing history. It was originally associated with the Abbey School as it was actually built after the school was established.
For many years, Br Rupert Alexis OSB had been the swimming coach. During his tenure, he established a club called the Abbey Aqua Lads Swim Club.
“But then soon after he thought about the girls, and he changed the name to the Abbey Aqua Lads and Lasses Swim Club. And that has been a very well-established swimming club in the swimming landscape in Trinidad over the years,” said Abbot John Pereira OSB.
The pool is 25 meters in length, which makes it eligible to be used as a training pool for the Olympic games.
Abbot Pereira explained that the actual reconstruction of the pool facility began about two years ago but the onset of Covid-19 caused “several stops and starts” due to the government’s ban on construction.
“So, it has been a rather long, drawn-out process. Now we have seen some light at the end of the tunnel, and we believe it is something quite positive for the area. Just the aesthetics of the place…as you are driving up the mountain, first thing you see is this lovely pool on your right,” Abbot Pereira said.
Work done on the pool involved repair to the inner surface of the pool, the restoration of the adjoining buildings, the overhaul of the plumbing system, and restoration of the grounds and the pavilion.
Restoration is 90 per cent completed, Abbot Pereira said, and “we are happy it has come to this point.”
History of the pool
According to a blog by Ladislao Kertesz, a former Abbey student, who, by his blog has established a virtual community of shared memories with former students, shared a short note on the Abbey pool in ‘Newsletter for alumni of The Abbey School, Mt St Benedict, Trinidad and Tobago, W.I. Caracas, 31 of July 2016 No. 769’. In it, he mentioned that he arrived at The Abbey School in September 1955, and there was no pool.
“In the area selected there was a flat ground and the scouts used it for their annual rope and bamboo marvellous construction projects. The last one was a tower about 50 feet tall….
The pool was constructed in 1956 and was to be inaugurated for the new fall term.
All students were advised to learn to swim during the summer holidays.
The pool effectively was ready to be filled during the month of September which was a long process due to the shortage of water from the river during summer.
Behold, when the pool was full, one side was about 6 to 8 inches lower than the other lateral side. The physics teacher was consulted as to the phenomenon. His answer was that standing water is always horizontal, even at Mount.
Fr Ildefons was at his time doing practice measurements around the football field aiming to master topography measurements and was placed in charge to review and solve the problem.
The pool was emptied, and he placed the theodolite in the middle of the pool, after levelling measurements this difference was noted, and the lower side was increased to make that side of the pool level.
The contractor did the extension and before December the pool was inaugurated with a competition.
Naturally only after the green water was chlorinated and filtered, it was beautiful blue.
Those who spent their time in the shallow end would notice that the bottom of the pool was not level.”
In a Circular No 747 rote, Saturday, February 27, 2016, Kertesz wrote that in 1956, Brother Vincent, sportsmaster at The Abbey School, asked the then Abbot Adelbert Van Duin, if Br Rupert could assist him in coaching sports.
In 1964, seven students, Gordon Mitchell, Russell Cunha, Bernard Lange, Peter Boland, Edward Watson, Douglas Watson, and Richard Knox, formed the Abbey Aqua Lads swim club. Br Rupert was assistant sportsmaster to the late Fr Gregory Kloeg, who foresaw that while a student swimmer would leave after sitting their Senior Cambridge exams, Br Rupert, as a member of the Benedictine community would provide continuity as swimming coach.
Bernard Lange, one of the founders of Aqua Lads and Lasses also served as assistant coach to the team, a position he held for 18 years.
By 1967 the first four Aqua Lads had made the National swim team.
The article mentioned that in 1970, while on a swim tour to Venezuela, the Venezuelan coach was astounded that there were no girls in the club and told Br Rupert it was the norm to have swim teams of both boys and girls.
How was Brother Rupert to get girls into the Abbey in 1970?
“Such was the attitude that the Abbey was off limits to girls. But always ready to support change, I got the headmaster, the late Father Bernard Vlaar, to agree to my sourcing girls from the Convent in St Joseph. A survey of the school by the principal produced 45 girls to the 12 Abbey boys, so great was the interest. And that’s how the club became Aqua Lads and Lasses,” Br Rupert said.
“It’s like a whole other family you have,” says Heather Hutton, who swam with the Aqua Lasses in the mid-70s.
She continued, “The beauty of being a part of a swim club like Abbey Aqua Lads and Lasses is that you have a whole new family, everyone is still in touch. It’s just great in that sense. We have benefitted so much from being part of the club in friendships, discipline and in life generally. This is why we are looking forward to the reunion.”
“Obedience,” says Br Rupert, “a word never popular, moreso today, but I obeyed the sportsmaster, gave up cricket and tennis and concentrated on swimming.” For 12 consecutive years from 1974–1986, Br Rupert took the Aqua Lads and Lasses to the Miami Springs Swim Meet and other meets in the United States.
“In 1987, we won a meet in Pennsylvania. It was the best bunch of swimmers that we happened to get in all age groups,” says the proud coach.
Other Abbey teams went to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Barbados, Grenada and were in winner’s row many times.
Although the Abbey pool was currently under repair at that time in 2016, the article said that the indomitable Br Rupert is sure “there could be a resurgence of interest when it is completed, with all forms of competitive swimming including the masters, water aerobics, water polo and lifesaving”.
Br Rupert has since “exited” as swimming coach due to declined health and age. He is now 87 and in the infirmary. “He is being well taken care of in the monastery,” Abbot Pereira said.
Since then, the Mount has been looking for a “partner” to “resuscitate” the pool and to make it a place where people will be once again able to participate and learn to swim. He shared the Mount had “one or two” partners along the way, but they did not prove to be “suitable”. “So, we had to make some divorce proceedings,” the Abbot said.
In 2017, Abbot Pereira was approached by Chadville Pilgrim, founder of Hilltop Aquatic Center to enter into a lease agreement with the Mount.
How to access the pool’s services
Recreational hours are as follows
Sunday to Sunday 6am to 8am.
Monday to Friday 5pm-7pm
Saturday and Sunday 1pm-3pm and 3pm-5pm
Tuesday and Thursday 8am- 9am (suitable for seniors or people with flexible hours)
Monday and Wednesday 6pm-7 pm
For more information, contact Hilltop Aquatic Centre at: 763-7704
Overall, Abbot Pereira reiterated that the Mount has always been a place that generates and encourages life-giving activities.
He asserted that the Mount’s main vision is to ensure their facilities will be used to positively enhance the society, community, and the nation at large, “hopefully in a way to keep people away from more negative activities like drugs. I think by utilising the facility in a positive way will enhance the general aspect of people.”