Sunday Focus: Leaders are pleased with first summer of new community pool
Now that school is back in session, the first summer of operation for the Natchez community swimming pool that opened June 8 is effectively over and by most accounts, people involved with the pool say they are pleased.
“It went pretty well,” said Tate Hobdy, YMCA supervisor and Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission chairman. “We had no major safety incidents or anything like that. The swim team is starting up. All-in-all, it went pretty well.”
Earlier in the summer, the center averaged 50 visitors per day and by the time school started back earlier this month daily visitors had dropped to 20 visitors per day, said YMCA pool manager Alice Agner at the end of July.
The pool is owned by the City of Natchez and Adams County but is managed by the YMCA through an agreement.
Budget-wise, Hobdy said the first summer carried with it many first-time expenses.
“Most days we have covered our labor costs,” Hobdy said. “We’ve only been open two-and-a-half months, so to compare a budget now would be difficult.”
Agner said the first summer’s experience would be beneficial going into next spring and summer.
“This summer gave us a lot of good data for next summer,” Agner said. “It will show us how to grow our revenue … give us a whole summer and no one-time expenses we had to make this summer, the center should make more revenue next summer. Also, we know how to handle operating hours better too with this data.”
Pool hours of operation have recently been adjusted to meet the changing demands of the season, said Monica Bihm, swim instructor and swim team coach.
“Right now we are running lap swimming mornings Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 8 a.m., and Monday through Friday 4 to 7 p.m. the pool is open for anybody to swim,” Bihm said, noting that a few weeks ago the morning lap swim had been moved up an hour earlier from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m. to allow people more time to do lap swimming before school or work. “Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday is 2 to 6 p.m. It has worked out well.”
Bihm and Hobdy said no decision has yet been made on how long the pool will be open into the fall and winter months.
“Going into the fall season,” Bihm said. “We can run it as long as the weather permits.”
Bihm said she is advocating for the purchase of a pool heater that would allow the pool to be open all year long and that different types of pool activities can occur throughout the year.
“In the summer, people enjoy the more leisurely activities but in the winter months, you have to maintain the pool anyway with swimmers or not,” Bihm said. “You can extend the season to let lap swimmers come in and let the football team come in and do warm up water aerobics, but there are a lot of things that need to happen to get programs in place running year round and keep everyone happy.”
Plans are in the works for programs, including within the past couple of weeks, the YMCA developing a swim team.
“So far, with official paperwork and all dues in, we have about 30 kids (on the swim team)” Bihm said noting the pool had only been seeking swim team members for a couple of weeks.
The Natchez swim team is a sanctioned USA Swimming club, said David Orr, head coach and chief executive officer of Sunkist Swim Team of Jackson, who is helping guide swim team efforts in Natchez.
USA Swimming is the national governing body of competitive swimming in the United States.
Orr, who recruited Bihm to be the swim team coach and instructor in Natchez, said he has been making frequent visits to the Natchez pool this summer, including Saturday where he met with members and their parents to go over the finer points of swim team practices and competition.
“It (the Natchez swim team) is a start up team,” Orr said. “The benefit of being associated with Sunkist is we have 170 swimmers and most officials in the state.”
Orr said he is excited about the prospect and the interest in the swim team in Natchez and he hopes to train some of the parents in Natchez to be officials.
“The pool itself,” Orr said, “is perfect for hosting sanctioned competitions — one day or three-day events.”
Orr said such events could have an economic impact on the hosting cities.
“It is a pretty significant impact,” Orr said.
The Natchez pool is certified by USA Swimming, which required an architect to precisely measure the length and depths.
Orr said Sunkist hosts three meets per year in Jackson with 350 swimmers from all over, and he recalled that Natchez had a strong swim team program in the late 1970s and 1980s.
“It was a very a big deal in Natchez and Natchez hosted a championship,” Orr said, acknowledging that Roseminette Gaude had been a great ambassador and coach for the swim team in that era.
Bihm also acknowledged Gaude’s contributions and said many of the kids who are on the new swim team are children or grandchildren of people who had been involved in the swim team under Gaude, who also is a proponent of the current swim team.
“The swim meets can bring people here to eat at restaurants and stay in hotels,” Gaude said.
Recreation leaders in Tupelo, Gaude said, in the past two years told her they estimated the economic impact of a swim meet in Tupelo at the time to be $1 million.
The goal, Bihm and Orr agreed, is to have the swim team ready to compete and host tournaments by the spring.
The Natchez pool was built by collaboration between the City of Natchez, the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez-Adams School District.
Adams County Board of Supervisors President Calvin Butler said the first summer had a bit lower than anticipated participation and he attributes that to the lack of a public swimming facility for the past couple of decades.
“It is kind of like a learning curve,” Butler said, “and we’ve got to get people back educated on survivor skills and swimming lessons.”
Butler said he is working toward getting more people in the community involved in the swimming pool next year with such ideas getting Vacation Bible Schools to bring children to the pool.
Butler said he is encouraged by the turnout for the swim team and has hopes that it could be an economic boon for the area.
“If we can get it going and get the community behind it, it could be great,” Butler said.
Natchez-Adams County School District Superintendent Fred Butcher said the school board has discussed incorporating the pool into the curriculum, but so far has made no concrete plans.
“We discussed the possibility of doing a swim team for maybe seventh and eighth grades so it could be competitive when they get to high school,” Butcher said. “We at least want to utilize the pool in P.E. classes to teach kids to swim.”
Butcher said he hopes the school board can have definite plans for incorporating the pool into the curriculum by spring.
Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he is pleased with the first summer.
“I’m just glad we got the aquatic center up and running by the summer,” Grennell said. “It is not only recreational, but also to afford people here an opportunity to learn how to swim. That in itself is important.”
Grennell noted the pool is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and “allows everybody an opportunity, young and old, rich and poor, an opportunity to get in and enjoy the water and learn a survival skill.”
Grennell said the board of aldermen at a recent meeting approved the city’s portion of the final payment of $16,000 for construction of the pool.
Ward 1 Natchez Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she is pleased with the first summer of the pool’s operation.
“We got off to wonderful start,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “People who have been out to the pool had a great time. We had great participation, even had a community party, and we are trying our best to get the community interested.”
Arceneaux-Mathis said she is excited about the swim team and the future for the pool, particularly the prospect of buying a heater and cover for the pool.
“We are scratching and looking for money,” Arceneaux-Mathis said, noting the possibility of grants in the upcoming budget year.
Arceneaux-Mathis estimated cost of a heater and cover at $300,000 and said even if grants were 50-50 matching, the city could apply and get the supervisors and the school district to help with the matching funds.
“I’m just happy we got it built, got it open and had a good summer,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We are just happy about it.”
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