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August 13, 2013

Board OK’s pool project, 7-0

First step in approval process moves $9.8 million project forward

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Board voted unanimously Monday to move forward with a proposal to build a new, centrally located swimming facility, replacing aging pools at the district’s three major high schools.

The board room had a standing-room-only crowd, with  the swimming community showing up in force for the public hearing, a legal step in the process. During the hearing, 19 people spoke, 18 of those strongly in favor. Each speaker drew applause from the audience.

The board approved preliminary determination and bond resolutions, which advance the project and set parameters. The cost cannot exceed $9.8 million and the project would be funded through a general obligation bond issue.

“It’s a first step. The board has approved moving forward with the concept,” Superintendent Dan Tanoos said after the meeting. “You had tremendous support from the community again this evening. The swimming community is very focused and organized.”

Preliminary plans call for a swimming center that would be 30,000 square feet. It would house a 25-yard by 50-meter pool to accommodate swimming and diving; a small therapeutic pool for physical therapy and rehabilitation; seating for 300 to 500 spectators; and space for lockers, offices, concession and storage areas.

“This is step one of a lengthy process,” said Donna Wilson, chief financial officer. There are other steps that must go before the board that include hiring an architect, approving project design and specifications and soliciting and awarding construction bids.

As a next step in the process, the board must publish a notice of its preliminary decision to issue bonds. The project is subject to a petition and remonstrance process.

During the board’s presentation, the administration pointed out that all kindergarten students will participate in a learn-to-swim program.

Working with United Way, the school district plans to offer a Swim by 7 program, in which all kindergarten students will receive five days of swim lessons — over the course of a week — as part of their school day.

Bus transportation will be provided at an estimated cost of $7,500, and the school district is working with United Way to secure grant funding. About 1,200 kindergarten students each year would be involved.

High school students would benefit from elective courses. Swim teams, the Torpedoes, other athletic teams, special needs students and the community would benefit from the pool; officials said there will be hours in which the facility would be open for community use.

The project with be financed with a bond issue of no more than $9.8 million, said Lonnie Therber, district financial consultant. The estimated hard and soft construction cost is $9,055,000 and the estimated cost to issue bonds, paid from bond proceeds, is $745,500.

The tax rate impact will be neutral because some bond issues will be paid off and go off the tax rate. Debt-service payments would not kick in until 2016, Wilson has said.

Debt service payments on the bond issue will be structured to increase as payments for existing obligations decrease, Therber said. During the life of the new issue, total debt service for all projects “will remain at the same level it is now.”

The impact on the debt service rate is estimated at a maximum of 11 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

The district expects no cost increases to operate the facility because it will be more efficient than the three existing high school pools, officials say.

During the public comment period, 18 people voiced strong support for the new swimming facility. One of them, Nicole Moore, the parent of a swimmer, said she came from a community that lost its pool, swim team and related programming.

The family was happy to become involved with Terre Haute’s swimming programs. “We are very proud to be part of this swim community,” she said. “Terre Haute has great programming and great opportunities for its  youth, and I strongly believe it’s very, very important to people.”

Swimming provides a life skill that is irreplaceable, Moore said. It promotes confidence, builds character and instills a strong worth ethic.

Valerie Kimble, also the parent of a swimmer, views the new facility and new programs as a way to increase minority participation in swimming.

Evan Austin, a former Terre Haute South Vigo swimmer who competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, also talked about the positive impact the swimming program has had on his life and how swimming can open doors for those with disabilities.

The only person to raise questions and concerns about the proposed swim facility was Dwayne Malone, who said he was speaking on behalf of “the poor and minority students and families.”

He said he did not attend to debate the need. “You have proven your point for a new centralized pool,” he said. But he questioned the district’s priorities in how it spends money for the benefit of all children.

If the new pool is built, he asked that groups such as the Torpedoes engage more poor and minority students to participate in swim programs.

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

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