Curbing rural drowning in Charleston County (copy)

Jennifer Holmes and instructor Lori Shimko celebrate taking steps on learning how to swim at St. Andrews Family Fitness on July 16, 2016. Holmes had committed herself to learn and teach others how to swim after her son Genesis drowned in a swimming accident. In 2019, a $3 million pool will open in her son's honor. File/Staff

The Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission will begin construction of a $3 million in-ground swimming pool in Hollywood this fall, bringing the children in this rural area one step closer to water safety. 

Set to open in 2019, the West County Aquatic Site will provide year-round swim lessons to the area's children and adults who, despite a close proximity to rivers and marshes, often do not know how to swim. 

David Bennett, director of the commission, described the Hollywood location as central to the western part of Charleston County.

"It will be located adjacent to the town of Hollywood's Town Hall and the Charleston County Library, which are both under construction," he added. 

+2 
New pool coming

The commission's plans to open the pool were set in motion in 2014 after the creation of the Genesis Project, a committee dedicated to finding ways to bring public pools to rural parts of Charleston County. 

The project was named in honor of Genesis Holmes, a Hollywood teenager who died in a drowning accident in a neighborhood pond. His mother, Jennifer Holmes, told The Post and Courier that nobody in her family had learned how to swim. 

According to a 2015 report by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, Genesis, 13, was in the demographic of South Carolinians most likely to die drowning: black male teens.

A 2010 national report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited access to pools as one contributing factor to the racial disparities in drowning rates.

The commission reviewed multiple sites for the aquatic center, including a city-owned property on Johns Island, Bennett said. But concerns about the overall site's development costs arose. Poor soils and space constraints were problematic, he said. 

The decision to put the permanent pool in Hollywood was not announced without controversy. 

At a June 26 Johns Island Growth Management Committee meeting, Bennett mentioned the Hollywood pool somewhat informally. 

Residents who attended the meeting recalled that in 2016, the former director of the commission, Tom O'Rourke, pledged the city of Charleston's 1727 Bozo Lane as the future site of a $1 million pool. The Post and Courier reported this news and photographed O'Rourke and members of the Genesis Project Committee standing at the site. 

+2 
Curbing rural drowning in Charleston County (copy)

Tom O'Rouke (right), Charleston County Parks and Recreation Department director, talks about the departments and the Parklands Foundation partnership for a planned public pool, on land the city of Charleston owns at Johns Island County Park. The swimming pool development is part of the Genesis Holmes Project aimed at bringing pools to rural areas of Charleston County so that children living in those communities will not only learn to swim, but have a facility to regularly practice and even start their own swim teams. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

One Johns Island resident at the meeting, Jackie Baer, wanted to know why a public pool wasn't part of Johns Island's future. 

"We have babies that need lessons," she said. "It seems like a no brainer." 

Johns Island residents, like other rural areas, have access to portable pools during the summer time, Bennett said at the meeting. 

During lessons at the portable pools, each swimmer gets eight 30-minute lessons. The 2018 portable pool operations have already unfolded at Jane Edwards Elementary, Angel Oak Elementary and Lincoln High School.

During the week of July 23 to Aug. 3, the Schroder Community Center will offer lessons. These pools play a small but important role in water safety in rural Charleston County, he said. 

"Someone is going to drown this summer in the rural community," Bennett said at the meeting. "We just don’t know their name yet." 

In 2016, it was reported that the Genesis Project committee wanted at least one public pool in two other rural areas of Charleston County, the Awendaw-McClellanville area as well as the Hollywood-Ravenel area. 

Abigail Darlington contributed to this report.  Reach Hannah Alani at 843-937-5428. Follow her on Twitter @HannahAlani.

Hannah Alani is a reporter at The Post and Courier covering race, immigration and rural life across the Palmetto State. Before graduating from Indiana University and moving to Charleston in 2017, her byline appeared in The New York Times.