HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The newest aquatic center in Henrico County had its grand opening on Tuesday afternoon — and a surprise dedication left one Henrico Board of Supervisors member stunned.

Frank Thornton was elected to the Henrico County Board of Supervisors in 1995 and has represented the Fairfield District for 24 years.

Thornton has driven his life with a history of engagement to protect the underdogs of society, according to John Vithoulkas, the Henrico County Manager. He says that Thornton worked in community groups, the County Teacher Association, served a term as President of the Henrico Civic League, as well as remaining focused on causes that make a generational difference.

“They [Thornton and his wife, Betty] will leave a legacy that not many can emulate. The work they undertook has left a benefit for all of us,” Vithoulkas said.

Thornton spoke at the podium with pride as he addressed the facility he championed to create.

“I truly believe it will be ‘transformational’ and life-saving,” Thornton said. “This will be a place where this community grows in body, mind, and spirit.”

The new facility, appropriately named Frank J. Thornton YMCA Aquatic Center, officially opens its doors to the public on Monday, Sept. 14.

After the name of the building was shown to the crowd of dozens, Thornton helped cut the ribbon to unveil the new aquatic center.

Frank Thornton is joined by other Henrico County officials to cut the grand opening ribbon of the new aquatic center.

The county’s new 20,000 square-foot facility, located near Laburnum Avenue in Henrico’s East End, is the result of a partnership with the Greater Richmond YMCA and offers three different pools, private and group swimming lessons, as well as other options for physical activities.

Aqua Boot Camp, adult Aqua-Zumba, and many other fitness classes start Saturday, Sept. 12, with registration opening 24-hours in advance.

Workers at the new YMCA aquatic center ensure that proper measures are in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and workers said they want to make everyone feel safe during this time.

“It’s really about activity. It’s about opening the doors for some folks who are afraid to go out. There’s no safer place to be than the water,” said Lisa Ramirez, the Senior Vice President of Operations for YMCA of Greater Richmond.

Liz Hansbury, the Operations Director of the facility, said bringing an aquatic center to the East End can be life-changing to its residents.

The main goals of the facility are to help fight social isolation in senior citizens by offering interactive classes — and preventing youth drownings by teaching Henrico second-grade students how to swim as part of their curriculum.

“I can’t wait to see 10 years down the road how many more children have access to swimming – how many more children will become lifeguards and swim instructors because of it,” said Chrissy Fandel.

Tim Joyce, the President of Greater Richmond YMCA, aims for the new pools to appeal to all ages — while those inside the center teach a life-saving skill.

“Many of us know the very sad statistic that drowning is the second leading cause [of death] in children between the ages of four and fourteen. That’s not thriving,” Joyce said. “We can change this.”

And Fandel hopes those lessons can be carried on into other facets of life.

“My hope and my dream for this is that a lot more people will come learn how to swim and be safe around water — and when they go out into their lives, they’ll have more opportunity to be able to go on that trip to the beach or the lake or the river,” Fandel said.

Beginning Saturday, Sept. 19, any resident in Henrico County will be able to swim with or without a membership on weekend afternoons. You just need to check their website to know what those times are.