Ideas for how to address the county’s lack of indoor swimming pools are surfacing after years of discussion.
City of Frederick officials are looking for partners to help them float the cost of a public indoor swimming pool or aquatic center on Hargett Farm, at the same time that recreational business leaders are working on a separate plan to build a new pool in the county for private and club use.
Discussions of Frederick’s need for more indoor pools were revived in November, when Frederick County Public Schools announced that the new Frederick High School, set to open in 2017, will not have a pool.
The loss of the pool at Frederick High will bring the number of pools available for 10 high schools and several club teams down to two — one at Walkersville High and one at Middletown High.
Already, there is not enough time before and after school to fit all the swimmers in, said city Alderman Michael O’Connor, whose two daughters are in high school and club swim programs.
“The problem is, the squeeze for pool time is significant,” he said. “When you take the high school programs, mix in the summer programs and standing club teams, there really is a lot of jockeying for time.”
O’Connor and other city officials see a solution. They said they just need to figure out how to pay for it.
The city purchased Hargett Farm in 2009 with a plan to build a regional park. Some sort of swim complex was always part of the discussion, said Roelkey Myers, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation.
Myers’ plan is to build a $20 million aquatic center on the farm. The first phase would include a indoor competition pool, with additional phases for therapeutic, indoor and outdoor recreation programming.
Myers came up with the $20 million figure and the project design after looking at the community’s needs, he said.
Mayor Randy McClement has met previously with county and school system officials about the idea.
Myers said he is working with a major corporation, which he declined to name, to put together a visual for the project to bring to potential partners.
The Board of County Commissioners discussed the need for pool space with Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban and other school system officials earlier this month.
Alban said the school system will not take on capital funding for the project, because its capital budget is controlled by the county. But the schools could help with operations, she said.
Commissioner Paul Smith said at the meeting that he would push back other projects in the county’s capital improvements project list so the county could contribute.
He said he wants to keep the county’s swimming programs alive.
Commissioners President Blaine Young told Smith that there is no room in the capital budget for it. If the county receives a formal proposal, the parks department could look in its budget to see how the county could contribute, Young said.
That figure could be between $1 million and $2 million, he said, but it won’t be $5 million, which he heard the city is looking for.
Meanwhile, Rob Fox, owner of Fox Swim Club, is talking to Tony Checchia, owner of the Frederick Indoor Sports Center, about building a pool as an expansion to his center.
Fox said he struggles to reserve practice times for his swimmers at county pools. Swimmers must sometimes practice as early as 5:15 a.m. or travel to pools in New Oxford, Pa.
In 2017, with the loss of Frederick High, the situation will just get worse, he said.
“I will have something done by 2017, for sure,” Fox said. “I’m working on my own plan, trying to move my own team and my own company forward.”
Checchia and Fox both said that while their plan will help one piece of the puzzle, by providing private swim space, something still must be done to address the lack of space for school teams, and lack of recreational pools in the county.
Checchia told the commissioners and school officials that someone needs to “steer the ship or drive the bus.”
City and county elected officials should formally study what the community’s needs are, and then develop a sustainable business plan, Checchia said.
“If they could all just get out of their own way and figure out that they have four groups that all have resources and all have a common interest to fulfill a community need,” he said.
Follow Jen Bondeson on Twitter: @Jen_Bondeson.