Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez along with school board members presenting honorary school jackets to PSJA swimming athletes at the new Pharr Natatorium on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (Courtesy: Sixtum Pictures)

PHARR — The Pharr Natatorium has been a project years in the making, with the city of Pharr first breaking ground on the facility on Oct. 1, 2019.

For PSJA Aquatics Director Jonathan Landero, however, the project dates back even further.

He recalls first taking over as the district’s swimming coach nine years ago. Back then, the idea of having a state-of-the-art facility for his athletes felt like a dream, Landero said, essentially starting a program from scratch.

On Saturday, the city of Pharr, in partnership with PSJA ISD and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, unveiled the region’s newest swimming facility, celebrating the grand opening with a ribbon cutting that ceremoniously marked the completion of a long-held dream, and jumping quickly into action with a triathlon held the same day.

“This has been a part of a dream and a vision that me and others have had for quite a long time,” Landero said. “When I got to PSJA in 2013, it looked like an uphill battle. It was a school district that never had swimming except for a year or two in the early 80s. So, building a program from scratch to this in the short span that it is, it’s kind of an incredible feeling.

“I thought back to all the kids that helped start the program in 2013 and the faith they had in it.”

The natatorium, which is located at 3001 N. Cage Blvd. in Pharr, features an Olympic-sized pool and diving boards, along with seating able to accommodate 1,500 spectators.

Additionally, the facility features showers, locker rooms and eight offices to be split among PSJA ISD and UTRGV coaches.

The new facility is second to almost none in the nation, PSJA High head swimming coach Pedro Saavedra said, hoping it helps swimming evolve in the Valley.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” PSJA High head swimming coach Pedro Saavedra said. “This facility rivals any state-of-the-art facility in the state of Texas, or probably in all the states. Just to have it here in the Valley, it’ll help our kids hopefully dream of the next level, which means staying here for college and swimming here for college. Not just giving up after regionals because we don’t have this type of facility here. It’s going to open the doors for future generations to stay here for college and hopefully go to state.”

PSJA students and the UTRGV mascot take part in the opening ceremony of the new Pharr Natatorium on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (Courtesy: Sixtum Pictures)

The natatorium has already drawn the interest of the Western Athletic Conference, UTRGV President Guy Bailey said, with WAC reaching out to UTRGV Director of Athletics Chasse Conque about hosting meets at the facility.

The swimming venue didn’t have to wait until WAC’s next meet to host an event with the inaugural TRI-Pharr Warrior Race, taking place shortly after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The triathlon is a testament to the goal of the new natatorium, hoping to open new opportunities not only for UTRGV and PSJA ISD, but the entire Valley.

“Whether you want to be a beginner swimmer where you want to make sure you’re able to swim and enjoy swimming, or if you want to compete, even at the collegiate level. As you all have heard, that’s going to be a reality right here. And that’s a reality that can begin right here,” PSJA ISD Superintendent Jorge Arredondo said.

Just hours after the TRI-Pharr Warrior Race, the Pharr Natatorium hosted its first official swim meet, with the District 31-6A swimming and diving meet taking place at the facility.

For Landero, hosting the first swim meet at the Pharr Natatorium was an emotional experience, thinking back to his previous athletes who helped make it possible.

“I just thought about all the kids that worked really hard and swam in the cold,” Landero said. “We’ve been through a lot of things together, those kids and I. So, it was just a feeling of accomplishment and gratitude towards all the people that were a part of making this whole thing happen. Also, excitement for what the future holds.”

The natatorium is just the beginning, not only for aquatics, but for the community, Landero said.

“Every one of our community members and leaders that were part of this partnership understand the vision that needs to take us to the next level, not just in aquatics,” Landero said. “This is symbolic in general of what we need for our community to rise. … I just think it’s all symbolic and representative of what we can do if we work together.”