Construction could start soon on a long-awaited aquatic center in North Charleston that will house the biggest competition pool in the state.
North Charleston and Dorchester District 2 teamed up in 2016 to build an aquatic center with an Olympic-sized pool in front of Fort Dorchester High School on land the entities already owned in a rapidly growing part of the city.
The center is expected to cost about $20 million — with Dorchester 2 kicking in $7.5 million and North Charleston covering the rest. It should be completed by August 2019, officials said.
“This facility will not only be an asset for this region but it will also be a really good example of the value of collaboration of entities,” said City Councilman Ron Brinson, who represents the area. “It was not easy to cobble together legally, but we did it with some good lawyering.”
Plans call for the bid to be awarded in March and construction to start in May.
But the first priority will be a new access road connecting the high school’s parking lot to Patriot Boulevard. The thoroughfare should be ready by the start of school in August, officials said.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one to which city and district officials are committed, Brinson said.
“This is something that those of us who live out here worry about a lot,” he said. “There are about 4,000 humans back there and only one way in and out right now.”
The facility will also use the school’s lot for overflow parking during large events.
The 54,000-square-foot aquatic center will feature the only 10-lane, 50-meter competition pool in South Carolina, officials said.
It will also have retractable seating for 1,000 spectators; an eight-lane, 25-yard warm-up pool; an outdoor patio; administrative areas; locker rooms; and space for a pro shop and concessions stand.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has said the facility is "for the kids, it's for the community as a whole, and it's for the economic development, as well."
It will not only be able to host regional swim meets, drawing hundreds of swimmers and their families, but it is also expected to be the home pool for the district’s three high schools and at least one of the Charleston area’s eight existing year-round swim teams.
District elementary students will receive free swim lessons during the school year, and regular programming for the community will include swim lessons, water aerobics and community programs.
The center has been talked about since at least 2012, when voters supported a referendum to spend $7.5 million for a pool. At the time, the district was considering partnering with the Summerville Family YMCA. But North Charleston officials saw an opportunity and pitched the idea for a bigger facility.
The city had spent $1.8 million in 2013 to renovate, heat and enclose the 50-meter Danny Jones Pool near Park Circle and had long-range plans for another facility on its west side.