Waves of excitement will be rippling out across the city tonight as celebrations to mark the opening of the new £20million Aquatic Centre go off with a bang.
Thousands of Wearsiders are expected to flock to Stadium Park tonight for the official launch of the centre before the 50metre Olympic pool, diving tank and Wellness Centre open to the public tomorrow.
A massive ceremony featuring light displays, fireworks, outdoor theatre and dance is planned for this evening outside the facility next to the Stadium of Light.
And Paul Dobson, Sunderland City Council's director of community and cultural services, thinks the mammoth 140,000 event will be the talk of the city for years to come.
He said: "The opening in Sunderland of one of the country's top sporting facilities is very much something to be celebrated.
"Sunderland Aquatic Centre will not only offer fantastic facilities for the people of Sunderland but will be a unique regional and national sporting venue and we want to share its opening celebrations with as many local people as possible.
" The free outdoor spectacular will be of a quality and scale never before seen in the city."
The celebrations start at 8.45pm to make sure the light conditions are right for the large-scale light projections and fireworks.
The event is being held in the school holidays and Mr Dobson hopes parents will allow younger children to stay up later to bring them along to the event, which should finish at 9.20pm.
The outdoor spectacular has been put together by Magnetic Events, which organised grand opening of the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras and the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace.
The company's director, Robin Morley, said: "We are now working to turn the Sunderland Aquatic Centre building into a huge outdoor stage on which larger-than-life figures and images will appear accompanied by music and special effects to create an evening to remember.
"As a free family event the show will be seen by a crowd of many thousands."
The Aquatic Centre launch is part of North East England's world class festivals and events programme, managed by Culture10, based at Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, and funded by One NorthEast, the TyneWear Partnership and Sunderland City Council.
Stella Hall, creative director of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: "The opening of the region's first 50metre pool is a real cause for celebration.
"The event to mark its opening will be a truly visual spectacular that will not just build excitement for this important new centre here in North East England, but also show the rest of the UK that we are a region of sporting excellence. "We are proud that it is part of our world-class festivals and events programme for 2008."
Raindrops keep falling...
Filled by rainwater and every inch designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible, the Aquatic Centre claims to be the greenest 50m pool in the UK.
Every raindrop that falls on the building's roof is collected, filtered and used in the pool.
The Aquatic Centre has the only 50m pool in the UK which meets the highest possible environmental standards.
Its 11 huge timber roof beams came from managed forests in Austria and the pool also has a "super insulated external fabric" and a combined heat and power unit to maximise efficient energy use and minimise energy waste.
Region's athletes and local families will all benefit
Top athletes from around the region are looking forward to taking to the water for training in their new home at the Aquatic Centre.
But council bosses say they want the 50m pool to be a first and foremost a community facility, and a range of activities has been set up for leisure users.
Courses and sessions include learn to swim sessions for children, families and adults, rookie lifeguard sessions for eight-year-old's and over, mother and baby sessions and aqua-fit for all ages.
The centre will also have a full-time diving coach to make full use of the six diving boards, which stand at 1m, 3m and 5m.
There will also be more fun sessions with a 20m long inflatable obstacle course where children can have fun while developing their balance and water confidence.
Paul Dobson, director of community and cultural services, said: "It is important to us that people view the centre as a family-friendly venue for enjoyment but also as somewhere people can get fit and improve their health.
"We have spent a lot of time planning sessions to provide fun and excitement for customers but we also focus on the serious side of learning to swim or improving swimming skills and offer a range of courses."
The centre will be available to schools for lessons, galas and sports day events and children's parties.
Effort has also been made to make the Aquatic Centre as accessible as possible for disabled people.
As well as accessible toilets, changing facilities and lifts, it also has an induction loop system for people with hearing aids in reception and meeting and performance rooms.
The new 50m pool has two hoists specifically built to lift people who need help in and out of the water, and the equipment can be moved to different areas of the pool so planned activity groups of disabled swimmers can go ahead easily.
Top class Wellness Centre
For athletes and leisure swimmers, the main draw of the Aquatic Centre is the 50m pool.
But the cutting-edge equipment of the centre's Wellness Centre gym is expected to pull in just as many punters.
The hi-tech fitness centres can already be found at six other sites across the city, including the Puma centre at Silksworth and the Bunny Hill centre in Downhill.
Paul Dobson, director of community and cultural services, said: "Because of the size of the facility and the fact that it's a 50m pool, the Wellness Centre can get forgotten a bit.
"But the public will get a real surprise when they come in and see how well equipped it is, over two floors."
Built around a central atrium, the open-plan, two-storey Wellness Centre has more than 100 pieces of Technogym Equipment (71 cardio and 29 resistance), free weights and two group training studios.
It will also offer 90 hours per week of group training classes planned at facility.
How to get there…
The launch celebrations for the Aquatic Centre are expected to people from all parts of the region and organisers have issued advice to spectators to help them best enjoy the event.
The event will take place outside the Sunderland Aquatic Centre adjacent to Kier Hardy Way, Sunderland next to the Stadium of Light. Stewards will direct visitors to the site.
(A19 from North and South). Take the A1231 (Sunderland North turn-off.
After four roundabouts keep to the left hand lane and follow signs for the Stadium of Light.
Continue on this road and you'll see the Sunderland Aquatic Centre on your right. Drivers will be directed to park in the stadium's west car park.
Kier Hardy Way will close from 7pm to 10pm. Traffic diversionss will be in place.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Bus numbers 3, 4, 13, 16, 56, 73, 74, 160, X88. Timetables can be viewed at http://www.nexus.org.uk/
WHERE TO PARK
Limited free parking is available behind the Stadium of Light
WHAT TO WEAR
This is an outdoor event and not undercover so spectators are advised to be prepared for all weather conditions and wear appropriate footwear.
The whole site is wheelchair accessible and there is a raised area for disabled visitors.
* For more information call Sunderland Tourist Information Centre on 0191 553 2000.
Plumbing new depths in the deep end
With moving floors and shifting booms, the Aquatic Centre aims to be all things to all people.
Some Wearsiders fear that the pool will be too deep and too cold for leisure swimmers, but council bosses say they've thought of everything for the only 50m pool between Leeds and Edinburgh.
The main, 10-lane pool can be divided up by a moving boom and the depth of the pool altered using a floor which can be dropped to make it deep enough for athletes and raised to make it shallow enough for learners.
There is also a 25metre multi-purpose pool which includes two 1-metre and 3-metre springboards, as well as one- three- and five-metre diving platforms – wide enough for synchronised diving.
This pool also has an adjustable floor so it can be used for diving one minute and learners the next.
And council bosses hope the 500-seat spectator facilities, rooms for coaches and physiotherapists, drug testing, plunge pool to assist muscle recovery and performance training area will all make the Aquatic Centre a magnet for competitions.