Dorchester ready to seek proposals on aquatic center

A rendering of what the Summerville Family YMCA envisioned for Dorchester District 2’s aquatics center when a 2012 referendum passed to build the facility.

More than two years after voters approved $7.5 million for an aquatics center, Dorchester District 2 could decide next month who will run the center and where it will be located.

The board hopes to vote Monday to send out a request for proposals for a manager/operator for the center, said Brian Mitchum, chair of the aquatics committee.

“We are going to open up this (request for proposal) to any entity that happens to see it,” he said.

After the board reviews the proposals and meets with interested parties, it will decide the best fit for the community, Mitchum said. That could be as soon as February.

Then they’ll have forums to get community input on amenities.

In 2012, voters approved $179 million to build and renovate schools and another $7.5 million for the aquatics center, which includes a pool, a fitness center, locker rooms and more.

The district wants to own the center but have an operator handle staffing, maintenance and operating costs, estimated at about $1 million annually. School board members said the priorities are providing a home for the district’s three high school swim teams and teaching its elementary students how to swim.

Through advertising, the district may find a new group interested in operating the facility, Mitchum said.

So far, it knows of two: Summerville Family YMCA and the city of North Charleston. Both have expressed interest in working with the district, but each has a different opinion on the size of pool.

The YMCA, which currently runs a heated outdoor pool and an indoor therapy pool, envisions a 25-yard-by-25-meter pool and a second pool with three lap lanes, built next to its current gym and wellness center at the Ponds. It would be designed much like the Rock Hill Aquatics Center, which was developed by the Upper Palmetto YMCA and Rock Hill School District 3.

Some board members said they should try to work first with the YMCA because, even though the referendum didn’t specifically mention the Y, that was how the deal was presented to voters, board Chairwoman Gail Hughes said.

The YMCA is ready to move forward on the project, CEO Gary Lukridge said.

North Charleston officials informally proposed a 50-meter pool on a tract by Fort Dorchester High School, where the city, county and school district also plan to build a library and emergency services building.

More than 25,000 Dorchester County residents live in the North Charleston, and the city and the district have a partnership for shared usage and maintenance of fields at the River Oaks Middle School.

“If we’re going to do a pool, we’re going to do it right,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said.

In 2013, North Charleston spent $1.8 million to renovate, heat and enclose the 50-meter Danny Jones Pool, built in the 1950s.

“If you are going to spend $7.5 million, why not build something that can draw aquatics activity statewide and even Southeast-wide, where you can have competitive swimming and the high school teams?” Summey said.

City Council will decide whether to submit a formal proposal, he said.

Local swim enthusiasts for years have lamented the lack of adequate facilities in the Lowcountry. Other pools open year-round include: Charleston’s Martin Luther King, a 50-meter pool covered by a bubble in the winter, and W.L. Stephens; Mount Pleasant’s Park West and Jones Center; Berkeley YMCA; MUSC Wellness Center; St. Andrews Family Fitness Plus; Eastshore Athletic Club in North Charleston; Mount Pleasant’s LTP Racing Club, which also has a bubble; and College of Charleston and The Citadel. Some require membership for access.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.