Pool enclosure inches forward

Despite skepticism about whether the pool at the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center is big enough to handle swim meets, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors agreed to consider making it a year-round facility.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry district), a former high school athletic director, said at the board’s Oct. 21 meeting he would not support spending $800,000 to enclose the pool if it can’t handle the crowd to be expected during swimming competitions.

“Anyone who’s dealt with competitive swimming knows this design won’t work,” he said. “It will be miserable for the kids.”

He and Supervisor Troy Wade (Louisa district) made a pitch instead for a new, free-standing aquatics facility that could cost up to $12 million. But the board voted against pursuing that idea.

The existing pool does have room on its decks to accommodate collapsible bleachers for spectators to sit on during meets, Supervisors Willie Gentry and Bob Babyok (Cuckoo and Green Springs districts) said.

The existing design for the aquatics facility, completed before the Betty Queen Center was built a decade ago, could also be modified slightly to provide more space for spectators.

“There is enough deck space, not a lot, but enough for safety,” Laurie Dalton, treasurer for Friends of Louisa County Aquatics. The nonprofit group is raising money to support the proposed pool enclosure. “We have talked about making sure there is room for swim meets, because that’s an important part of this.”

The Friends have promoted the pool enclosure not only for its potential use by the Louisa County Public Schools and its swim team, but also by the general public.

A typical swim meet at Fork Union Military Academy in Fluvanna County attracts about 300 people, Dalton said. 

The $800,000 estimate includes the cost to enclose the largest of the three pools at the aquatics center. The other two pools would still be available for outdoor use in the summer months, according to James Smith, the county’s parks, recreation and tourism director.

County officials said it would cost $800,000 to enclose the pool and between $370,000 and $446,000 for annual maintenance and operations, depending on staffing. Those numbers include the $115,000 the county spends now for summertime hours.

Jeff Ferrel, assistant county administrator, said at the board meeting it’s premature to project how much revenue can be made to offset the annual expenses. But he agreed to further develop the cost estimate. The pool makes up about 70 percent of the $115,000 in expenses by charging admission to the pool and through other revenue sources.

The pool attracts 12,000 visitors each summer, according to Smith. He said he needs more time to project how many people would use the facility if it were open all the time.

Barnes made a motion at the meeting to end discussion of spending $800,000 to enclose the existing pool, and to direct the board’s energy toward a possible new free-standing building with a pool. The motion failed, 5-2, with only Barnes and Wade in support.

A second vote, to further research enclosing the existing pool, was 4-3, with Supervisors Duane Adams and Tommy Barlow (Mineral and Mountain Road districts) joining Babyok and Gentry in support.

Babyok said before the vote he wondered how long the more expensive project, with an estimated construction cost of $8 to $12 million, would take to build. The $800,000 to enclose the existing pool is scheduled in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2021, which begins next summer. However, the board could decide this winter to delay spending the money until a future year.

“We need to maximize use of the pool by making it year-round,” Gentry said.

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