Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill school leaders mull two plans for aquatic center

Vialyn Castilla of the Fort Mill Sharks summer swim team practices her stroke at the recreation complex that was discussed as part of a proposal to create a school district aquatic center.
Vialyn Castilla of the Fort Mill Sharks summer swim team practices her stroke at the recreation complex that was discussed as part of a proposal to create a school district aquatic center. Fort Mill Times File

The Fort Mill School District isn’t confined to two options, but either of the two presented still could be the final pick. Two proposals that came with distinct differences.

Game On Development is a for-profit project that will bring a new aquatic center to the area regardless of whether the school district buys in for an ownership stake. Plans are moving quickly, to where the district may have to act soon or miss out – or come up with a creative contract agreement – due to bond language on spending for new construction.

The town of Fort Mill is a public option in partnership with the nonprofit Upper Palmetto YMCA. That plan would improve an existing pool facility the district already uses. But, the town doesn’t own the property and much of the proposal involves agreements that haven’t been reached.

A similarity among the plans is a big one – operations.

“The $9.9 million is the easy part, but that just buys you the building,” said Patrick White, school board chairman.

White said the capital costs are taken care of through a school bond last year, but the cost of operating a pool facility is a concern.

“We don’t have the ability at that point to generate the money to pay for that,” he said.

Brad Ceraolo, CEO of Game On, told the school board operations won’t be a concern with his proposal.

“You’ll never have to spend another penny,” he said.

Moe Bell, CEO of the Upper Palmetto YMCA, said the same applies with the town plan.

“You build it,” Bell said, “and we’ll operate it.”

Game On

The project off Dam Road in Tega Cay will be almost 80 acres. It will include a theater, townhomes and world class sports facilities. Game On has 40 acres now. The company has or will have partnerships with local youth soccer, lacrosse and basketball organizations.

The full project would bring in an estimated $275,000 annually in school taxes, $175,000 toward school debt. The school district wouldn’t have to worry about covering any deficit on the swim component.

“We are a for-profit organization, and we intend to operate as such,” Ceraolo said.

If the district money comes in, a separate aquatic member rate would be in place for district students, families and employees. Open swim nights and movie nights by the pool would be offered. The site also would be large enough to host championship level meets for what will eventually be three district high schools.

Ceraolo also points to data on drowning among older students, saying the pools could be used for physical education, including basic swimming lessons, throughout the day.

“We would love to see that program expand beyond just the elementary school level,” he said.

The pools aren’t dependent on school funding. The funding would give the district certain usage rights.

“In our design we have the aquatic center,” Ceraolo said.

Fort Mill/YMCA

The public plan isn’t as large or defined, but it involves a town Mayor Guynn Savage said “isn’t going anywhere.” If the town can acquire the recreation complex on Tom Hall Street, the school district will have other public projects in Rock Hill and Clover to look at to see how the YMCA would run it.

“I think it’s realistic,” Savage said, “and I know it’s honest.”

Savage said if the district picks Game On or another group, she will be there to celebrate the ribbon cutting. She believes the district will do what is best for students and families.

“We want that decision to work,” Savage said. “We want it to be right.”

The complex site is convenient to what will be three high schools, the third in planning stages now. It is familiar to existing schools who use it, though district money would go toward improvements.

“We want an operation that is greater than what we have today,” Savage said.

Another draw involves the YMCA setup. Rates would be the same as other YMCA facilities in the county. Members would have access not only to the fitness and aquatics center at the complex, which is owned by non-profit Leroy springs and Co., but at other YMCA sites throughout South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

And soon to be sites nationwide.

Bell said expertise from running existing sites in York County would help develop a plan that works. He knows public pools come with a cost.

“There’s no question, swimming pools lose money,” Bell said. “Pools lose money, fitness makes money. Put them together and you can break even.”

Uncertainty is an issue with the public plan. The town doesn’t have the property and there isn’t an engineering plan on the table.

“We haven’t spent a dime on anything yet,” Savage said.

The town and school district, along with YMCA, all serve “a group of people who call Fort Mill home,” she said. An aquatics center could be the latest way those groups work together toward that goal. Still, she said, negotiations are ongoing.

“We found a lot of areas that need more information,” Savage said.