Fort Mill school officials didn’t choose between two groups wanting to build an aquatics center – or potentially save an existing facility. Hearing from proponents of both on Tuesday, the school board still has plenty of questions that need answering.
“There are different concepts for realizing our goals than we understood,” board chairman Patrick White said.
As part of a $226 million school bond last year, district voters approved $9.9 million to pay for an aquatics center. The move came in response to losing the longtime recreation complex on Tom Hall Street, part of the Anne Springs Close Greenway. District high schools use the facility for swim teams. A lease between the Greenway and the town for recreation runs through 2020.
“At that time, we didn’t have any idea that anybody else was doing anything about it,” White said.
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The district went in search of proposals. The board received two, including a partnership between Mooresville, N.C.-based Game On Development and SwimMAC Carolina in Charlotte. The other came from a partnership between the town of Fort Mill and the Upper Palmetto YMCA. The board then canceled its solicitation.
Both plans have challenges and opportunities, officials say, which put the school board back to considering what best meets district needs. Board members want a site for swim practice and meets, as well as for elementary swim education. The district hasn’t ruled out building the facility itself, dropping the aquatics center altogether, going with either standing proposal or picking another if bids are solicited again.
“The board wants to make sure we meet the aquatics needs of the district,” White said. “This isn’t something we want to do quickly. Wherever our investment goes, it needs to stand the test of time.”
Perhaps the sentimental pick, and also the one with the most variables, is the town plan. Mayor Guynn Savage said public input led town officials to begin talks in January with Leroy Springs & Co. – the owner of the existing recreation complex – and developer Clear Springs Development Co. about the town’s acquiring the existing facility.
“Those discussions have been very productive and very interesting to date,” Savage said Tuesday.
The town would bring the YMCA on to manage the pools and recreation space, investing money to renovate or expand it, if a deal can be reached. The town submitted the idea to the district, Savage said, though details are admittedly few.
“We don’t want to get in over our heads,” she said. “We don’t own the complex. We don’t have an agreement for it.”
The arrangement wouldn’t be unique for the YMCA. It has similar agreements with the Rock Hill school district, and an aquatics center in Lake Wylie is under construction as part of a partnership with Clover schools.
The more concrete plan comes from Game On. The company earlier this year rezoned land along Dam Road in Tega Cay. An almost $40 million project would include a 340,000-square-foot recreation area for sports from youth leagues to professional-level training. Also included is a more than 40,000-square-foot aquatics center.
Game On CEO Brad Ceraolo said the sports site connected to the aquatics center is a major factor in what his group can offer the district.
“It brings on a dynamic that we feel is far superior to anything in the region,” Ceraolo said.
The Game On plan calls for a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard warmup pool, three endless pools and a resort-style pool with three to five 25-meter lanes. The district money would earn schools first use of facilities needed for competition and education.
“Especially during swim season, that gives the first right,” Ceraolo said.
The pool plans for Game On will happen with or without district funding, he said.
Both groups say they want to bring local communities together. The question facing the school board is, how? While timing is an issue with Game On and uncertainty with Fort Mill, a decision doesn’t have to be made now, officials said.
“We have five years to issue the debt from when the vote was approved,” said Leanne Lordo, district finance officer. “Then we have three years to spend once we get the money in hand.”