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Recreation: With eye on schools, county delays pool plans
By Charles Swenson
Georgetown County has scrapped plans for four swimming pools at recreation centers while it waits to see if the county school district will use funds from a $165 million bond referendum to create a competition-level pool.
County Council this week received a revised list of $28.9 million worth of projects for the final phase of a capital improvement plan that began in 2005. The pools, estimated at $750,000 each, were struck from the list along with a new $8 million main library in Georgetown and $3.6 million in road projects. There was no discussion, but County Administrator Sel Hemingway said he met individually with the seven council members to review the recommendations.
Pools have been part of county recreation plans for 20 years. They were included in the 2005 capital projects list, but delayed when revenue fell off during the Great Recession. “I’m not going to say I was surprised,” Hemingway said of the council’s decision to defer the pools again. “But I was.”
He told council members last month that School Superintendent Randy Dozier is interested in a partnership with the county on a pool where high school teams can hold meets. “Our suggestion is that we step back until we see what the district is offering,” he told council this week.
The school bond referendum includes money to add auxiliary gyms and tennis courts and to improve other athletic facilities at the county’s four high schools. It didn’t specify money for a swimming pool. “We do have some contingency,” Dozier said. It’s also possible the other projects in the district’s list of renovations and expansions will come in under budget. And the district borrows about $4.5 million annually for other capital needs.
“It’s very preliminary, but clearly there’s a need,” Dozier said. In addition to swim teams at three of the four schools, the district provides swim lessons to second-graders in partnership with the YMCA in Georgetown.
The county hopes to finalize the next phase of its capital plan by the end of June. It does include competition-level baseball and softball fields at Waccamaw Elementary School and the Eight Oaks Park outside Georgetown. There is also $2.2 million for a library in the southern part of the county, $6.1 million for land purchases and an unspecified amount for beach nourishment projects that may be developed. All the projects are scheduled to be completed or under way by the middle of 2021. During the next four years, the county expects to start a new round of planning for future capital projects.
In addition to waiting to see what the school district does, Hemingway said the other impetus to delay the pools was their operating and maintenance costs, estimated at $132,000 apiece annually. Those costs would come at a time when the county is trying to raise pay for current employees and faces an uncertain future with pension costs because of a shortfall in the state retirement system.
Hemingway also pointed out that the county’s plans have always called for outdoor pools that would operate seasonally. They wouldn’t be suited for school competitions in the fall. If the county and the school district can work together on an indoor competition pool, it would mean that the other three pools could be smaller “aquatic parks.”
Dozier’s preliminary work has included asking the management firm for the bond projects, M.B. Kahn, to come up with some shared-use pools that district and county staff can visit. The district has property available at Georgetown High for a facility that would be centrally located, but it would have to have formal talks with the county about how the costs will be shared.
The school capital projects are also part of a four-year plan, so any talk of pools is still well in the future.
“It’s on the list, but it’s not high on the list,” Dozier said. “I hate to say it’s even on the list.”
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