When the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex opened 40 years ago, the goal was to provide an affordable exercise option and other programs for a small mill town with few amenities. Now called the Anne Springs Close Greenway Recreation Complex, it serves one of the fastest-growing areas in the Southeast, and it’s anyone’s guess if it will see its 43rd birthday.
With the looming possibility of the facility closing in 2020, some complex members have started a grassroots campaign to keep it open indefinitely. Their letters, emails and phone calls are not pleas aimed at complex owner Leroy Springs & Co., but rather two other not-for-profit entities that could prove vital in saving it.
“It’s more of a community center than a recreation complex,” said Dorene Grant of Indian Land, who initiated a letter-writing campaign.
She is a regular in water aerobics class and use some of the other facilities.
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“We have the classes and programs, but it’s also a meeting place for a lot of people. It’s where a lot of the older people go to socialize,” said Grant, who joined the complex seven years ago after moving from Maryland. “It’s like a staple of the community, and taking that away is taking away a very important aspect of their lives.”
The town of Fort Mill signed a 10-year lease with Leroy Springs in 2010 to manage the recreation sports programs that includes the playing fields, tennis courts and gymnasium previously run by the complex. The town, which had no youth sports programs and few playing fields a decade ago, has seen its population nearly double to 17,000-18,000, according to an estimate from Fort Mill Planning Director Joe Cronin.
The growth of mostly young families has kept the school district scrambling to keep up. It opened a second high school 10 years ago and is now building a third. The high school swim teams at Fort Mill and Nation Ford rely on the regulation-size swimming pool at the complex for practice and home meets. The complex pool also is used by a summer league swim team.
A 2014 letter signed by LSC President Tim Patterson to complex members and staff said owning the facility past 2020 is not sustainable.
“At the end of the lease it will be 43 years old,” the letter states. “In 2020 – at the end of this 10-year lease – the facility would need a large capital investment to remain relevant.”
Among other upgrades, the building needs a costly new heating and cooling system, and other age-related issues have to be addressed, officials have said.
The letter says it has operated at an annual deficit in the $300,000 range.
“Long term, the company cannot continue to absorb this cost,” it states.
The letter also highlights the company’s commitment to the Anne Springs Close Greenway, which added new amenities including an amphitheater and dog park, following a successful capital campaign. A complex membership includes a Greenway membership.
The letter also mentions the real estate value of the property.
“...the land on which the complex sits has become increasingly attractive for redevelopment and enhancement to the town’s tax base,” it says. “Proceeds acquired as a result of a sale would be reinvested to enhance the long-term financial health of the Greenway and its many programs.”
It’s the 2,100-acre Greenway, not the Complex, Patterson said this week, that indelibly puts the company’s stamp on recreation in Fort Mill.
“Leroy Springs has been a contributor to recreation in the Fort Mill area for generations, and remains committed to the future of recreation in Fort Mill,” he wrote in an email. “While we will no longer operate the Recreation Complex beyond 2020, the Anne Springs Close Greenway will remain an affordable outdoor recreation amenity for future generations, protected by a conservation easement to be enjoyed by our grandchildren and beyond.”
Prior to the lease arrangement with the town, LSC applied for a re-zoning that would give the company a range of redevelopment options for the Complex property. The request was tabled indefinitely by Fort Mill Town Council.
The 2014 letter said Leroy Springs & Co. made an offer in 2009 to give the complex building – but not all of the surrounding property that includes playing fields – to the town. The town declined.
Fort Mill Mayor Guynn Savage said the town is invested in finding a way to keep the complex from closing and preserving the recreation sports programs it has managed for seven years.
“Preserving the complex for the town of Fort Mill is one of our top priorities,” said Savage, who was not mayor at the time of the 2009 offer.
The town and school district officials acknowledge they are talking about ways they might partner up to acquire the facility. However, they are somewhat reticent to discuss the future.
“We have talked off and on, and it certainly has to be the right choice for each party,” Savage said, referring to the town, school district and LSC. “It’s a little easier for us, the town of Fort Mill, because we know the benefit the complex provides to this side of town and all of the members.”
In 2015, school district voters approved more than $226 million in borrowing in a bond referendum for school construction and upgrades, and $9.9 million to build an aquatic center. The vote to allow financing an aquatic center is not bound to a project or partnership.
Last year, the school district put out a request for proposal and recevied two. After a public meeting held to air details of the plans, the district rescinded the RFP.
“Our charge as an administration is to try to provide swimming pool access for the three high schools,” said Chuck Epps, superintendent of Fort Mill schools. “I’m not prepared to say more. We’re working on accomplishing that.”
Epps said “no options have been ruled out,” including taking no action at all.
“The result may be we do nothing,” he said, “if we can’t figure out a way to do it prudently.”
Both Epps and Savage said they received letters and emails from Grant’s campaign. Savage said the gesture hit home.
“Nothing takes the place of someone taking the time to put their thoughts in a letter,” Savage said.
That’s the response Grant said she was hoping for.
“Back when we had gotten the letter in 2014, it looked pretty (certain) it would be going away in 2020,” she said. “Now it’s got three years left. Where do we go from here?”
Wyndie Havner of Tega Cay, who started working part time at the complex two years after it opened and became director in 1995, said she is glad to hear about the campaign.
“That’s the American way, to let your feelings be known,” she aid. “We want people to get involved. Gosh, it makes me feel great.”
Havner, who was the complex director until she retired in 2010, was also a Fort Mill school board member from 1998 to 2014. She knows the impact of growth on public education and recreation services, which until 2010, were provided in Fort Mill almost exclusively through the privately held LSC.
“We moved here in 1977 and my husband Dickie came home and said ‘there’s this facility, beyond Fort Mill, out in the country and it is state-of-the art!’ There was nothing out that way then. No grocery stores. There was only one traffic light between my house and the Complex and now there’s 20-plus,” Havner said.
Havner said the complex lived up to the vision LSC had when it was conceived.
“Their goal was to offer affordable recreation to the townspeople and that goal was achieved,” she said. “It offers something for everyone, from the cradle to old age.”
Looking at the possibilities from the perspective of someone who spent years as a steward of taxpayer money, Havner said she likes the idea of a partnership between the school district and the town to keep the complex open.
“I think partnerships are the key,” she said.
Here’s what Anne Springs Close Greenway Recreation Complex members say about the facility possibly closing in three years:
“The Greenway here in all is absolutely a wonderful facility. They have programs on top of programs. The youth are very well attended to. The weight room is an excellent facility. The membership is reasonable. The pool is well attended, and it’s just a great place. It’s a wonderful facility. The whole Greenway, the 2,100 acres, biking and hiking and all kinds of activities. The summer of music concert series is absolutely wonderful. It’s just an all-around great place, and it’s reasonable. It’s very reasonable.”
– Charles Krebs of Indian Land
“I’d be lost without this place. It’s kept me going for 26 years, and I love it.”
– Lois Porter of Fort Mill
“This facility is very important to me. I know it’s 40 years old, but it is used so much. It’s local for me. It takes my husband and I 12 minutes to get here from Indian Land. Other people, they drive from Fort Mill, Rock Hill, some closer to Lancaster. They come here. I think because so many have been coming for so long, it’s just our place and their place. We don’t want to lose it. It’s very special.”
– Mya Krebs of Indian Land
“We go to lunch once a month. We see each other in the hallway and it’s like ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ Whereas in a regular gym, if you get a nod, you’re lucky. We really are family-oriented here. It’s the greatest place ever.”
– Jennie Diaz of Rock Hill and aqua dance instructor at the complex
– compiled by Melissa Oyler