After celebrating groundbreaking Thursday morning for the new Clover School District aquatic center, it’s time for work.
“Thirteen months from now we’ll be cutting the ribbon and jumping in the pool,” said Superintendent Marc Sosne.
District and community leaders gathered June 25 near Crowders Creek Elementary School on Charlotte Highway at the future site of the $18 million aquatic center. Voters approved $14 million in a bond package last year, with the district and community adding almost $4 million for upgrades.
The facility will have indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, weight room and exercise space. Upgrades from the base plan include a second level walking track and the outdoor pool. Community donations and $1 million from York County hospitality tax funding will pay for an outdoor water park. The district will own it while Upper Palmetto YMCA staff operates it.
“It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind facility for lots of people,” Sosne said.
Groundbreaking was emotional for Joan Epping, high school swim coach for 15 years. Trips to River Hills or The Landing for pool time will be a memory once the new facility opens. This will be a year-round facility that will make the team more competitive, she said.
“With swimming, you can’t do it two months a year,” she said. “You have to commit to more than that.”
Epping also sees value in the swim lesson that will be provided to elementary students.
“These third-graders are going to be able to get to swim, and hopefully with education, we’ll be able to cut down on (drowning) tragedies,” Epping said.
Tim Conley, who runs the YMCA aquatics program in Rock Hill and will oversee the one in Lake Wylie, said elements of boating safety and how to wear life jackets will accompany time in the water.
“We have a lot of water around here, and kids need to be confident and safe around the water,” Conley said.
Conley said there is nothing like the planned facility in South Carolina. He expects four or six large swimming events at the facility in 2017. The county hospitalit tax funding and large community donations are based on the facility drawing tourism.
“It’s going to be a catalyst for economic prosperity,” said Auvis Cole, who organizes sports tourism with the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s going to help continue to grow the area exponentially.”
Moe Bell, CEO with Upper Palmetto YMCA, said the Lake Wylie facility will be “a little bit bigger, a little bit nicer” than a similar one in Baxter.
A YMCA bus brought about 50 children to the groundbreaking. They were heading from Clover to Baxter to use the pools. Bell said about 450 children make that trip each summer.
“Next year, all 450 of them can swim in the (Lake Wylie) pool almost any time they want,” Bell said.
Bell called the district swim lessons “a really proud moment for all of us.” Just opening a YMCA facility for free lessons would not bring in nearly as many children as a school district program will, he said.
Rose Cummings, who chaired a committee to promote the 2014 school bond, said the aquatic facility “was a little bit harder of a decision” for voters than new schools. But as a swim mom and someone who lives on the lake, Cummings sees value in swim lessons the district can provide.
“Swimming is a life skill,” Cummings said, “not a recreational skill.”
Still others touted benefits for the school district.
Garrett Hills, 20, and Morgan Rulevich, 18, have eight state championships between them from their time at Clover High School. Hills now swims at Texas Christian University, with Rulevich on her way to UNC-Asheville.
“It’s definitely going to open opportunity for younger swimmers,” Rulevich said of the new facility.
More constant training will benefit swimmers, both say, which helps the team but also can advance a swimmer beyond high school meets.
“I guess they think of it more as a leisure activity, but definitely it’s really competitive,” Hills said.
John Marks • 803-831-8166