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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials View of a Councilman: Carolina Beach To Build Aquatics Center?

View of a Councilman: Carolina Beach To Build Aquatics Center?

By ROBERT LEWIS
Carolina Beach Town Councilman

Council approved creating an ad hoc steering committee to help manage the process to create a request for proposals for an Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Center.  
As reported by local media our town council voted to move forward with requesting proposals for a design, engineering and building an Aquatic Center in Carolina Beach.  The concept and proposed design of a town Aquatics Center was developed by some of our local residents and approved by our town’s Park and Recreation Committee. 
A community pool has been on the Park and Recreation Master Plan for some 14-15 years but with high interest rates and no grant monies available it never materialized into a real plan until now. 
In developing the plan this same group of residents researched the investment and the annual maintenance to run a community pool and when a business plan demonstrated the facility could break even if it was designed as a full Aquatics Center the plan took shape.  An Aquatic Center can provide a facility and services for a wide range of uses than just a place for our families to swim. 
Our residents can benefit from a year-round swimming facility while fees for other uses can offset the cost to build and operate the facility. Those fee based uses include: Swimming Lessons for all ages, Swim Team Practices, Swim Meets, Scuba Diving Training and Testing, Rehabilitation Programs etc.   Currently as designed the proposed Aquatic Center design would have an 8 lane lap pool, a deep dive area and a zero entry access to the pool.  Zero entry access means no steps or ladders for entry or exit
Some have questioned why council would vote to move forward with such a project now.  My thinking on the subject is that it provides our town with a unique resident focused asset which will provide significant value to residents of all ages with little or no investment from taxpayer dollars.  First, many of our local families and their children have limited places to go for swimming lessons.  Second our senior community has been asking the town to build a community pool to serve their needs for years. 
Third, numerous residents and families have voiced a strong interest in an indoor facility for the winter time for water exercise and enjoyment.  Fourth, there are not many facilities available to serve our residents with the exception of the YWCA in Wilmington.
Why Now? The real numbers associated with the expenses versus income is what make this facility a reality.  The town currently owns land that the center can be built on so we would not take any parcel of property off the tax base.  The building can be financed at the lowest interest rates ever available making it an affordable project with little downside risk.  An Aquatic Center can actually be a revenue supported venture as many across the North Carolina are showing net revenue gains after expenses.
The demographics of families and individuals to support such a facility are here based on the proposed business plan.  There is also some additional county parks bond money available and Council is submitting a request for this money for the Aquatic Center, which could lower the potential building investment which would lower the annual costs even more. 
Since last Tuesdays council meeting I have heard a very strong voice of support from the residents of all ages in favor of building an Aquatic Center for the community, but I will admit I have heard a few people against it. 
Those who have spoken to me questioning the investment are not against building an Aquatic Center; they are more focused on other infrastructure needs of the town.  Some have asked why we would not use the money to invest in improving our water system. 
The water system is governed and funded as a separate Utility and as such no general fund monies or tourism fund monies support it.  We do have a reserve fund for Utilities part of which is set aside to fund capital improvements and we are working on a comprehensive plan to improve the quality and performance of our aging water infrastructure as we speak. 
Others have said we have the Atlantic Ocean all along our town for swimming why do we need a pool.   I agree, but for a youngster to learn how to swim they typically need to learn at an early age in a pool, for seniors to enjoy the water especially for exercise most prefer a pool and for those who have a physical handicap the ocean and beach presents some challenges to providing a safe environment to use the water.  
Another thing I heard was why not use the money to repave our roads.  The business plan developed for the Aquatic Center projects money generated by fees covering the cost of the annual note and the cost of operation and maintenance.   So little or no real tax dollars will be used for the project.  This cannot be said for road paving.  As we all know a road has a life span and it requires maintenance and that cost is never recouped by generating any revenue so it becomes a direct expense against our budget or general fund reserves and your taxes.  In the past the town has been fortunate enough to get some help from the State to fund some of our road paving projects but that has changed with the economic issues affecting our state budget.  Today, Carolina Beach has to fund 100% of repaving of our roads. 
Currently the Aquatic Center proposal is to provide an annual family pool pass in the neighborhood of $75 to $100 which I think would be a great value to all our residents.  With a little help from community volunteers, some good project planning and some motivation this project can move forward quickly and by next summer could be a reality.
What do you think?
These views are my own and do not reflect those of anyone else on town council.
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