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The Mississippi Aquatic Center would be built on land donated by the City of Ridgeland valued at more than $1 million.

Swim expert: Don’t drown in debt

The 78,223-square-foot Greensboro facility was opened in September 2011 and has hosted national championships.

USA Swimming official cautions Ridgeland to keep pool plan within budget

By JACK WEATHERLY

Economic impact is one thing. Paying the bills is another.

That’s the advice for those proposing to build and operate a 88,000-square-foot facility to be called the Mississippi Aquatic Center in Ridgeland.

Mick Nelson, facilities development director for USA Swimming, which governs the sport, offers guidance for those wanting to build such facilities.

Nelson says that the formal Mississippi proposal has gotten its priorities backward.

The second phase, which would cost an estimated $8.9 million to build, would be for health and wellness, including teaching people how to swim.

Drownings are the No. 2 cause of accidental death among children and adolescents in many states, Nelson said.

Based on the study by Wallover Aquatics International of Lancaster, Pa., the first phase, for competitive swimming, would cost $24.7 million.

“We collaborate with architects and aquatic engineers on dozens of aquatic facilities each year,” Nelson wrote in an email.

“All our facility designs are held to the standard of recovering 110 percent of operational cost. If that can’t be achieved, then the facility is too large.”

» READ MORE: $33.6 million aquatic center at Ridgeland proposed

» READ MORE: Greensboro, N.C. center a success for area but operates at a loss

The group is currently assisting a project in “an affluent northwest Chicago suburb,” he said.

The Greeensboro Aquatic Center has a deficit of $350,000 this year.

“They started with a facility size and budget similar to [the Mississippi Aquatic Center]. They ended with a $20.5 million design, 55,000 square foot [design without compromising their programming goals. Any larger or more [money] and the project would have been dead.”

Nelson offered the following averages for consideration:

» 1,000 members paying $69 a month for health and wellness programs.

» Swim teams paying $20 per lane per hour to rent the competition facility for five hours a night five days a week.

» Swim teams able to pay $8,500 to $10,500 a day to rent the large pool for meets.

» A source of income to pay the debt (bond issue).

USA Swimming will hold eight Build a Pool conferences this year, including one in Dallas March 11-12.

Tupelo opened a $12 million aquatic center in the fall of 2013 and had to immediately come to grips with the building cost.

The wish list had to be adjusted, as costs ran $1 million over the eventual budget, according to Don Lewis, chief operating officer for the city of Tupelo.

Lewis, who was parks and recreation director for the city when the center opened, said the plan had to be downsized.

The pool deck had to be downsized and the planned diving well was eliminated, he said.

The fiscal 2017 operating budget is $888,000, which has grown from the initial $600,000 budget.

“One of the reasons we’ve increased the budget is that we’ve had some good success. We’ve been hosting more [meets] … and it takes more manpower.” Plus, the heating and cooling costs go up, along with maintaining the proper water temperatures.

But the facility, which is owned by the city and operates out of the municipal general fund, has stayed within budget.

The facility, which seats about 900 for swim meets likewise relies on corporate sponsorships, he said.

The proposal for the Mississippi Aquatic Center in Ridgeland is for a private foundation to own the facility, according to David Orr, head coach of the Sunkist Swim Team, whose board, along with the Ridgeland Tourism Commission, paid for the study.

Orr did not return phone calls for this article.

Lewis said, “We look at it as quality of life and sports tourism.”

The center also offers a learn-to-swim program that it partners with the city school system.

About Jack Weatherly

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