Suffolk meeting explores possibility of aquatic center
A 2016 Suffolk Parks & Recreation Master Plan identified indoor swimming as the highest recreational priority among city residents.
Now the city is trying to figure out if it’s possible and at what cost.
A community meeting at Suffolk City Hall on Sept. 13 was held to unveil progress of a feasibility study on a city aquatic center and to field citizen input.
The center would be built in either “downtown Suffolk or North Suffolk,” said Lakita Watson, director of Suffolk Parks & Recreation. “That’s where the growth is; that’s where the people are.”
MacPherson noted that the results of an online survey showed respondents favored both recreational and health and safety programs for an aquatic center.
Top priorities were open recreational swimming and lane swimming, followed by group exercise, therapeutic programs and swim lessons.
A proposed center would include a six-lane, 25-meter by 25-yard pool, locker rooms, lobby, concession area and lifeguard, staff and first aid stations, MacPherson said. Amenities could include water slides, river scenes and shallow entry locations, like wading into a beach.
Suffolk resident the Rev. Lennis Taylor asked about water therapy programs, especially for elderly residents who have had procedures like hip replacements.
“We don’t have anything in Suffolk that’s available to us as water aerobics,” she said.
Taylor also asked about swim lessons for children, noting most local pools only offer swim lessons on a limited basis during the summer.
Children are not alone in lacking the safety that swim lessons offer.
James “Shamus” Riley, swim coach at Nansemond River High School, pointed out that most high schools use local YMCA facilities during early hours before schools open and sometimes immediately after school. Few activities exist in pools throughout most of the day, Riley said, and an aquatic center could offer ample hours for therapeutic programs.
Cost to city residents should be affordable, said Kyle Lippiatt, a Nansemond River High School swim coach who also coaches swim programs in Portsmouth. Fees at area city programs run between $70 a year for residents and $110 for non-residents, he said.
Councilman Roger Fawcett said such a facility would be well worth it “if it could save one child from drowning.” Money would have to be found to make it happen, he added.
“That’s the phase we’re in now, whether we’ll be able to do it,” Watson said. Cost estimates for similar facilities range from $9 million to $12 million, she said.
The feasibility study should be complete by the end of the year, Watson said. City Council would then have to determine if it wants to add the proposal to its capital improvements plan.
Residents can still weigh in on the feasibility study online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Aquatics_Center_and_Swimming_Survey.
Source: The Virginian-Pilot