The swimming pool at Georgia College will be accessible to the general public from June 1 through Labor Day for the next three years thanks to a new three-year agreement between university officials and the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners.
Baldwin County Manager Carlos Tobar said the cost to the county to use the Centennial Pool at GC is $24,000.
“This will be open to the general public and one of our county employees will be there,” Tobar told commissioners during last week’s county commission meeting.
Tobar pointed out that the county still must discuss fees for the use of the pool.
The joint agreement between county commissioners and university officials will allow public access to the swimming pool every day through the first day of school. After those dates, the public will have access to it on the weekends from the first day of school until Labor Day.
Dianne Lucette, who has for many years supported the need for a county-owned and operated swimming pool, addressed commissioners before they voted to approve the agreement with GC.
“The pool has been put on the back-burner for years,” Lucette said. “It’s not a priority. Our tax dollars are paying for the decisions that you all are making.”
She said since 2008, voters in Milledgeville and Baldwin County had voted on whether or not to continue SPLOST funding for various projects.
“Every year since 2008, we have voted for SPLOST and a pool and we haven’t gotten it yet,” Lucette said. “There’s no return on our investment, and this cannot go on — being kicked down the road.”
Lucette said she wanted commissioners to know how disappointed she was about the issue for the entire community.
“We need a public pool here in Baldwin County,” Lucette said, noting that she and others continuously hear that, “we’re going to get; we’re going to get it.”
But the issue still is being kicked down the road, she said.
“This is a bandaid,” Lucette said. “We need a pool. We’ve got a facility for our dogs. We could have used that facility for an indoor pool if that was a suggestion. But that wasn’t even on the table.”
Crawford Finley, a retired Navy veteran of 21 years and a former teacher at Baldwin High School for several years, also addressed commissioners during last Tuesday night’s commission meeting.
He also serves as vice chairman of the Baldwin County Aquatic Committee that has been studying ways to build an aquatic center.
“Thank you for the work you’re doing to get this aquatic center,” Finley told commissioners.
He said he had attended several meetings and knows that the project is still moving and that he wanted commissioners to know how much he appreciated it.
“But I just want you to imagine for a minute, a lazy river where elderly people can come and rehab,” Finley said. “I want you to imagine splash pads where children and families in our community can go. What about a kiddie pool for the children t learn how to swim? What about a pool where you could have swim teams from all the schools, and I’ll say again, from all the schools.”
Finley asked commissioners to again imagine what these ideas and others could do for the community.
“An aquatic center is needed for all the citizens,” Finley said. “It must not be for one group. It needs to be for everybody. And I think that the community could benefit. I want to ask you to just imagine.”
The comments made by Lucette and Finley were met with applause from several residents attending the meeting.
“Before we go any further, I’d like to say a few comments about our community plans and a swimming pool,” Commission Chairman Henry R. Craig said.
He then elaborated a little about the county’s new contract with GC that would allow for swimming.
“The entire community will be invited to participate,” Craig said. “Yes, there will be a small fee.”
Craig said he and fellow commissioners had all heard that the community wants children in the community to learn how to swim.
“This is an opportunity for them to learn how to swim, starting this summer; a pool for everybody in Baldwin County,” Craig said. “It’s playtime for everybody in Baldwin County that wants to use this pool. This is a way to get the opportunity for swimming for all of our citizens in Baldwin County rather than waiting for a pool that quite frankly Baldwin County does not have the resources to build the facility that we need.”
Craig said the county has designed a plan for a swimming pool and that the plan would be made available to the public sometime soon.
“We intend to have a splash pad at the area as part of the incorporated idea for our aqua center in the county, starting one piece at a time as the money becomes available, but in the meantime, providing for an opportunity for all of our kids to learn how to swim this summer and to play this summer,” Craig said. “That’s the best we can do with the resources that we have.”
Craig said many residents don’t realize that every city and every county in Georgia is a balanced-budget state.
“Everybody can't spend money they don’t have,” Craig said. “We don’t have the money to build a $15 million facility that was suggested. The facility that we’re looking at may cost eventually around $3 million.”
Craig said the new swimming pool and splash pad would be built in the area of the old prison site near the Walter B. Williams Recreation Center.
Commissioner Sammy Hall said he would like to echo what Craig had told residents at the meeting.
“I think you said it very well,” Hall said of Craig’s comments. “The money is not there. Our anticipated cost is about $3 million. We don’t have $3 million. You’ve got to walk before you can run. And I by getting started with the college that answers the question about swimming lessons and then building a splash pad answers the question about having a place for children to play.”
Hall said he was impressed with the facility that he had seen in Dublin and Laurens County.
“That’s what our plan is very much like,” Hall said. “But we can’t get there, yet.”
Commissioner John H. Westmoreland said he thought there was one thing that people need to realize.
“We want to build this facility, but it’s going to have to be built in phases,” Westmoreland said. “It’s just going to have to happen as money becomes available to phase in step-by-step.”
Commissioner Tommy French also commented about the subject.
“For me, I’ve heard a lot of comments, yay and nay,” French said, noting he’s always shot straight when he’s had anything to say, publicly. “I’ve never cared who was mad, and who was upset. I shoot it straight.”
First of all, French said, at cost what it costs, referring to a new swimming pool and splash pad.
“We need to build a facility that can sustain us,” French said.
He said when it comes to the question about what will children be able to do this summer?
French suggested they use the swimming pool on the campus of Georgia College.
“The college has decided to partner with Baldwin County at a lower rate than we could spend ourselves, whether you know it or not,” French said.
French said there are a lot of moving parts to building an aquatic center.
“But you don’t get anywhere until you start the blood and guts, and that’s what this board is intending to do and it’s trying to do pretty soon,” French said, noting that the new aquatic center can continue to grow as money becomes available to do other things on the site. “That’s my take on it.”
French said the money being paid to GC through the county’s new contract would be less than the cost of one employee.
French said the $24,000 pays for lifeguards, upkeep, chemicals, etc.
Commissioner Emily C. Davis, who has long supported and advocated the county building a new swimming pool to replace one that no longer exists, said she has problems with the amount being charged the county by GC.
“It should be some kind of a way that we could waive that or do it for much less than that,” Davis said. “I also hope this isn’t just something the commissioners are saying just because it’s an election year because I have never wavered from us having a pool.”