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A community pool?

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Some citizens pursue a petition drive to push for a swim facility; one local dive business had been considering building a commercial pool

By KRYSTAL SHEPPARD
ksheppard@thewakullanews.net

With the loss of the 21st Century grant and after school program after July 31, plans for the future of the community center are being discussed once again.
Many residents are eager to see a community swimming pool or water feature installed, similar to Cascades or Trousdell Aquatics Center in Leon County, which provides a place for swim meets, swim lessons and scuba instruction.
According to County Commissioner Chuck Hess, “Having a pool would be a great asset to the community. A great thing, I’ve seen many great examples across the country. There are so many things it adds to the community, such as the ability to have competitive swim teams, another high school sports team, exercise classes for the elderly, a place to learn to swim or just family night at the pool.”
Hess pointed out that some businesses would also benefit from it. Gregg Stanton of Wakulla Dive Center says he also supports the idea, and would make use of the pool for scuba instruction rather than taking his students to Tallahassee.
However, after nearly 10 years of the county considering a community swimming pool, he isn’t getting excited about it yet.
Stanton believes strongly that having a pool available locally would benefit his students and as such has considered building a training pool at the Wakulla Dive Center’s facilities in Medart.
He discussed the project at length with Commissioner Hess, and the possibility of a community development grant to assist with the expense.
“No way,” Hess said. “A county grant is for county property, not private. You’d get a lot of raised eyebrows if you start advocating for that.”
Some Wakulla County residents oppose a community swimming pool, saying it would pose an unnecessary liability and financial burden to the county.
Owners of other divecenters with open community pools warned Stanton that unattended children are a very real concern, and something that happens all the time.
“That’s ridiculous,” Hess said. “Community pools have rules, not just anyone can walk in without a parent or guardian. If you want to talk finances and amenities like size and salt or chlorine,OK, but this is just an excuse to argue.” He added “It would be a user-funded system, so community support is essential.”
When asked his opinion, County Commissioner Ralph Thomas said, “I’m not against the idea. I think most people would agree that a community swimming pool is an asset. My concern is financing, how will we pay for it? I’m not sure venturing down new roads and offering new services when existing services are not optimum is a good idea. There are many things yet to be done at the rec park, for example, and we have done a lot but I don’t know that we should create something new that could potentially pull resources from Parks and Recreation or raise residents’ taxes.”
Thomas added that for the pool to work, the community must support it. He said one option is to “Pre-sale annual memberships. If enough members of the community participated, we would have the funds in an account to build the pool.”
Those who support the addition of a swimming pool are holding a Community Swimming Pool Petition Signing Party this Saturday, June 10 at the One Stop Community Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to show their support and sign the petition to let the commissioers know they’d like them to seriously consider it. The party is open to the public, and there willl be food and live music.
Residents may also share their opinion, whether for or against the community swimming pool, through a simple seven-question online survey that allows participants to answer the questions with yes/no/don’t care. A link to the survey can be found on Commissioner Ralph Thomas’ Facebook page.
The survey, which is simply a gauge of community interest rather than a scientific survey, had over 300 participants within 24 hours of being posted, according to Thomas.
Purchased in 2010, the 22-acre facility on Shadeville Highway was intended to function as a community center, a hub of activity and amenities for the enrichment of the community. While its intended use was never questioned, the specifics of how that goal would be achieved has been the topic of ongoing discussion and debate for several years.
Initially, an interest survey was provided to more than 600 Wakulla residents to get community feedback on different option. The amenities listed on the original survey included a gym and a community pool, which was favored by 84 percent of participants.
Other items listed were walking trails, tennis courts and various enrichment classes.
The property was vacant for a time, used as interim housing for government offices during the renovation of the courthouse and construction of the new annex of the sheriff’s office.
Several groups and companies initially toured the facility, offering their opinion on what should be done and how they could participate in the management of the center. Of these, the county initially accepted a proposal from the YMCA, but the agreement never came to fruition.
In 2014, a gym was built onto the back of the facility through a state grant, and the community center opened as Wakulla One Stop Community Center, with the 21st Century program working in partnership with Wakulla County Coalition for Youth’s Ounce of Prevention grant.
The 21st Century grant paid for the after school program, bringing in as many as 130 students a day, more in summer months.
Ounce of Prevention provided additional services to those children and families, such as family intervention services and the middle school program Get Real, as well as others from the community seeking services.
The coalition of youth intends to continue the Ounce of prevention program at the community center, although it is unknown if the end of the 21st Century grant program will effect their ability to serve the community effectively.