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July 22, 2013

Proponents for centrally located pool show up in force

TERRE HAUTE — Proponents of a new, centrally located swimming pool facility for the Vigo County School Corp. showed up in force at Monday’s School Board meeting.

More than 300 people attended the meeting, conducted in the Sarah Scott Middle School cafeteria. There was standing room only.

The meeting included a two-hour presentation and then a public comment period. School Board president Paul Lockhart announced up front that the board would take no action Monday.

Most attending appeared to support the project, and the crowd gave enthusiastic applause to those who spoke in favor of the project.

Jeff Thompson, South Vigo’s swim coach and head coach for the Torpedoes swim club, spoke in support of the project and praised the board for its vision. The new aquatics center “is the right thing to do,” he said.

He also said it’s time to “dare greatly” and give the community “something to be proud of for the future.”

Superintendent Dan Tanoos told the crowd that the recommendation has not been made in isolation, and many people, community leaders and organizations have been consulted.

Franklin Fennell, VCSC director of facilities, noted it is time to replace the aging pool foundations, not something easily done when pools are in the middle of the school building.

Representatives of Garmong Construction, a consultant in the project, outlined options they had looked at and related costs. For the existing pools, they showed pictures of deteriorating concrete in the foundation; rusting, corroded ductwork; and damage to the pool decks.

The most economical option that met district objectives was a new, standalone facility costing an estimated $8.9 million, they said.

The facility would be financed through a general obligation bond issue. The project should not increase the tax rate because over the next few years, some bond issues will be paid off and go off the tax rate, said Donna Wilson, VCSC chief financial officer.

Mick Newport, VCSC director of personnel, said no additional staff would be needed to operate the proposed pool.

Others who spoke talked about for-credit classes that could be taught at the swim facility, and a therapeutic pool could be used for athletes, special education students and others.

Tom Balitewicz, principal of West Vigo High School, talked about the issues with that pool. “The condition of the pool is on a downward spiral,” he said. “Inaction is not an option.” The new pool “is a golden opportunity” for the district, he said.

Troy Fears, executive director of United Way, talked about United Way partnering with the school district to offer a Swim by Seven program, an effort to teach students to swim by age 7.

During the public comment portion, which began about 8:15 p.m., Josh Power, an ISU associate vice president, said the pool facility would help attract professionals to Terre Haute.

Parent Lisa Logsdon expressed strong support. Her son is a swimmer at North. Because of the state of disrepair of existing pools, the new facility “is a necessity,” she said. It also would provide an economic boost to the community, and it would be used to teach students a needed life skill, swimming.

Katherine Senseman, a Terre Haute South Vigo senior and a swimmer, said the proposed facility could bring high school invitationals and other major competitions to the community. It would put Terre Haute “on the map” in the swimming world and it would give Terre Haute “a new sense of pride and benefit the community as a whole.”

A handful of people had questions and voiced some concerns.

One concerned citizen, Ted Brentlinger, said he was not opposed to the project. “I’m opposed to how it’s been handled. … The public has not been well-informed,” he said.

Another person remained concerned about how students would be transported to the new facility.

Yet another speaker, Leah Myers, said she wasn’t for or against the project. “I am concerned about how we are going to be fiscally responsible and support the entire student body in building this pool,” she said.

She would like a detailed cost breakdown that includes removal and repurposing of existing high school pools. She also wanted to know how students would be transported to the new facility.

The public comment session ended about 9:15 p.m. There were about 26 who spoke, the vast majority in favor of the pool.

Tanoos said he sensed overwhelming support for the proposed pool project.

Officials say swimming pools at Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo and West Vigo high schools are in poor condition and in need of renovation. They say construction of a new, single facility at a central location would be the most cost-effective alternative.

Should a new swim facility come to fruition, the three existing pools would be closed and the space repurposed into classrooms or other uses.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

Arthur Foulkes contributed to this report.

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