Rosemarie Scott

Rosemarie Scott

A Vigo County School Board member wants to know how much it costs to operate the district's Aquatic Center, located at 2230 Prairieton Road.

Rosemarie Scott, one of four new members on the board, said she continues to get questions from many citizens about costs related to operation of the aquatic center. She raised the issue Friday during a meeting of the school board's finance committee, which this year has begun to meet monthly to review vendor expense claims.

"I need to know all things pool," Scott said, referring to costs of operation. Many people continue to ask questions about the facility. "It's never gone away," she said.

Board member wants Aquatic Center numbers

Jackie Lower

Many people who voted for her wanted more information, and she said she believes she must follow through.

The $9.8 million aquatic facility, located on land leased from the city in Voorhees Park, had its grand opening in January 2016. The 31,150-square-foot facility replaced aging pools at North Vigo, South Vigo and West Vigo high schools. The pools in the three high schools were old, obsolete, hard to fix and expensive to operate, the administration said when proposing the aquatic center. Danny Tanoos was superintendent at the time.

The facility features a 25-yard by 50-meter Olympic-sized pool, a diving well, therapy pool and spectator seating.

Because the project cost was kept under $10 million, it was not subject to a referendum.

The aquatic center faced much controversy when it was built. "It's been a big pill for a lot of people in this town to swallow," Scott said. "You can't talk about it with any kind of accuracy if you don't know what it costs."

School board president Jackie Lower, who also sits on the finance committee, pointed out the aquatic facility was constructed because one new facility was less expensive than renovating or rebuilding and maintaining separate pools at the three high schools.

Also, IHSAA rules for competitive swimming changed, and the pools located within the three high schools could not be modified to meet the new requirements, she said.

Lower said people need to know the facts related to the aquatic facility. "You can't gripe about a $10 million expenditure instead of a $30 million expenditure [for three pool facilities]."

Some people still question the pool expenditure and believe the district should focus on academics rather than athletics, Scott said.

The aquatic center is used by VCSC high school swim teams, the Torpedoes swim club, students for various classes — including swim lessons for all VCSC kindergarten children — and Indiana State University’s women’s swim/dive team. Various competitive meets are conducted there, which has helped the local economy, advocates have said.

Community-based instruction for special needs students takes place there, and Department of Natural Resources conservation officers do scuba training there, said Randy Jensen, Aquatic Center director, in a separate interview. First responders also have done scuba training there.

The program teaching kindergarten students to swim has received a lot of positive feedback, Jensen said. "That's a huge benefit to the community. If it prevents one kid from drowning, whatever we spent was well worth it."

One criticism has been the lack of availability to the public. In January, the district began opening up the aquatic center to the public on a limited basis for lap swims.

Scott said she had previously asked for information on the pool and wanted to know the status, although she was in no major rush.

Bruce Perry, VCSC chief financial officer, said he has compiled part of the information and is still working on a report, which will be made available to all board members. He is still reviewing the salary component and wants to include any revenues the aquatic facility generates.

"We'll get some answers," he said.

At one point, Scott said, "I just really want to know what it costs us ... I know we spend money like drunk sailors."

Lower responded, "I don't think we spend money like drunk sailors ... I think we're very conscientious" and "good stewards" of taxpayer dollars.

Scott explained that she used the term "drunk sailors" in a "purely sarcastic" way.

The monthly finance committee meetings are new to the district this year, a recommendation by Superintendent Rob Haworth for greater transparency and accountability.

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

Sue Loughlin has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star for more than 30 years. She covers general news with a focus on education.