TERRE HAUTE —
Marjorie Shields lives across the street from Voorhees Park, and the prospect of a new Vigo County School Corp. pool there doesn’t concern her.
More than likely, it would be a positive for the park and the neighborhood, said Shields, who has lived in her home for more than 30 years.
“If this is a spot where they can build it, fine,” she said from her porch overlooking the park.
Other residents expressed similar views. For neighbor Tom Gonzalez, public use of the facility would be important.
Gonzalez said he needs more details about the project, including exactly where the pool would be located. Other than that, “I don’t care. A lot of people around here don’t care,” he said. He just hopes neighborhood children will be able to use the facility.
Last week, the Vigo County School Corp. identified Voorhees Park as the top site recommended for a proposed VCSC Aquatics Center, which would replace aging pools at the district’s three major high schools.
The facility would be used by high school swim teams for before- and after-school practices; to host swim meets for teams from around the state; and, it is hoped, for state-sponsored swim events, including possible university swim competitions, according to a Sept. 1 letter submitted by Supt. Dan Tanoos to the mayor and Terre Haute Parks Department.
The pool also would be used by the Torpedoes swim club and by high school students for elective courses, such as advanced swimming.
The district is working with United Way to offer all kindergarten students five consecutive days of swim lessons over the course of a week.
Special-needs students would benefit, and the community would have opportunities to use the VCSC-owned and -operated pool.
The School Board did not act on a site last Monday, but the board voted unanimously to support the administration in moving forward with the process and to act with “great urgency.” The district must hire a construction manager and architect.
The site has drawn much interest, and there are those who disagree with the location. Patrick Goodwin, who favors a more central location, has asked for continued review of other sites.
During last Monday’s meeting, Tanoos gave a list of 16 sites and reasons why other locations will not be recommended, including cost, size, central location and possible environmental issues and availability, among others.
“We’ve done the best we can with the sites available, we’ve done our due diligence, and we feel very comfortable with recommending” the Voorhees Park site, Tanoos said Friday. “We bounced it around long enough and talked about it long enough, and sometimes, you have to make a decision and move forward. We know we won’t please everyone.”
Voorhees Park has 11 acres, and the aquatics facility, estimated to cost $9.8 million, would require about eight acres. In the letter to the mayor and parks department, Tanoos proposed a 99-year land lease with the city and Parks Board, with $1 rent “for the term thereof.”
Under the proposal submitted to the city, “The property would be maintained by the Vigo County School Corp. if the Parks Board would be willing to lease the property to the school system,” the school superintendent wrote.
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 and a small therapeutic pool for physical therapy and rehabilitation; seat 300 to 500 spectators; and have space for lockers, offices, concession and storage.
Asked about the Sept. 1 date of the letter, Tanoos indicated the pool committee had met just days before and agreed it was the best site. He submitted a letter to the city at that time “for them to begin mulling it over.”
An expanded pool committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 8 to go over proposals from architectural firms. Ten firms have submitted information, and the district will narrow that and present five to the committee, which will further narrow the number to three. A subcommittee then will interview the three and make a recommendation to the school board.
The firms are from in-state and out-of-state locations, none from Terre Haute. There are no local architects that do this kind of work for pool complexes, Tanoos has said.
Tanoos also indicated that Garmong Construction is preparing a “rough drawing” or site plan to present to the parks department and mayor, to give them an idea about what the district is proposing. He hopes to submit that within two weeks.
As to when the school district will make a presentation to the city parks board, Tanoos said that is still being determined.
Mayor, others weigh in
From his perspective, Mayor Duke Bennett says the next step is for the school district “to provide additional information about what the footprint of the building and parking lot might be.”
The Terre Haute Parks Board would have to act on a lease agreement with the school district.
Bennett has stressed that the Voorhees skate park “won’t be touched,” but there is “plenty of room at the park” for a proposed pool.
The parks department is updating its future plans for the park system, and “We want to reserve space for us to do some things down the road,” Bennett said. Splash pads might be developed at some of the parks, including Voorhees.
Tanoos agreed Friday that with any proposal, the skate park would remain intact and a playground and shelter would remain, although there might be a possibility the playground would move. He’s also aware the parks department may someday want to add a splash pad to the park.
Supporters of the skate park, including Gail Phillips, have talked about expanding the skate park, and Phillips is working on an upcoming fundraiser for that purpose.
She supports the idea of the aquatics center being located at the park. Based on what she knows, “I do support putting the pool there,” she said. Bennett has told her that “it won’t impede expansion of the skate park.”
Phillips believes the aquatics center, particularly if there is more parking and improved lighting, could benefit and increase use of the skate park. It fits right in with the goal of expansion, she said.
Tanoos said he wasn’t aware of possible expansion of the skate park, but would be supportive.
Bennett sees several advantages to locating the aquatics center at Voorhees Park. “We’d like to see some development in that area” along Prairieton Road north of Interstate 70, he said. Also, the park is close to riverfront property.
“We’d love to see people invest in that area,” Bennett said.
Street and intersection upgrades that would improve traffic flow on First Street and Prairieton Road are in the planning stages, he said.
One would involve an improvement at the intersection where Prairieton Road, First and Hulman streets meet, which now becomes a bottleneck at times.
Another long-range goal in the area involves working with railroads, removing tracks and creating a boulevard along First Street, with fewer turn lanes, the mayor said.
Another benefit to the Voorhees Park location, Bennett said, is that by using city-owned property, no privately owned property would be taken off the tax rolls. The aquatics center would be on property already tax exempt. “I like that,” the mayor said.
City Council member Amy Auler, D-1st, who represents that part of Terre Haute, said she would need more information on the proposal before commenting.
“It’s all so new,” she said. “I don’t want anything to happen to the skate park; the kids fought so hard for it.”
Other residents weigh in
Other residents near the park also offered no objection to the pool proposal. Donna Uhey, who lives across the street, said it wouldn’t bother her. “It would be better” with the facility, she said. The city no longer operates a pool there. “It seems like there’s nothing there.” She echoed the sentiment of nearby neighbors in hoping that kids in the neighborhood can benefit.
Richard Jones II, who lives next to the park, said of the pool proposal, “That’s fine. They put the skate park in. I don’t care. As long as they don’t come over and tear up stuff of mine,” he said.
Another man, whose son owns a home in the neighborhood, wondered if the Voorhees Park site will have enough room for parking, or if people will be parking in front of residents’ homes for events.
Bennett anticipates further developments within the next several weeks. “We’ll talk and see if this might happen. It’s all very preliminary,” he said.
The district’s proposal will be presented to the Parks Board, and there will be additional opportunities for public input during those public meetings, the mayor said.
Tanoos believes the aquatics facility would benefit the neighborhood and that area along Terre Haute’s west side. The facility would be aesthetically pleasing and the grounds would be beautified and well-maintained.
He also believes it would encourage development in that area, and would be an economic boon for nearby hotels and restaurants.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com.