Aquatics center

A rendering of the aquatic center planned to be built by Fort Dorchester High School. Provided/SGA Architecture

Workers will start digging the hole this summer for the Lowcountry’s first aquatics center with an Olympic-size pool.

North Charleston City Council on Thursday awarded a $21 million contract to build the long-awaited facility in front Fort Dorchester High School, near Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester roads, to Brantley Construction.

Workers are expected to break ground on the project in June. Construction will take about 17 months, but the first priority is a new access road connecting the school’s parking lot to Patriot Boulevard, according to city officials.

The 2,200-student school currently only has one access road, which some officials have said is a safety hazard. The thoroughfare should be ready by the start of school in August, officials said.

When finished, the 10-lane, 50-meter pool will be the biggest competition pool in the state, city officials said.

The 54,000-square-foot facility will also feature an eight-lane, 25-yard warm-up pool; retractable seating for 1,000 spectators; 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."

The facility will host regional swim meets, drawing hundreds of swimmers and their families.

The project is a collaboration between Dorchester District 2, which is kicking in $7.5 million approved by voters in a 2012 referendum.

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.

The city and school district partnered on the project in 2016 to build the facility on Patriots Boulevard, where the city owned 4.5 acres next to a 5.5-acre school district tract.

The city is funding its $13.5 million portion of the costs largely from the accommodations tax.

“When you think about it, inter-agency agreements are pretty complex,” Brinson said. “All along the way, we have seen nothing but good cooperation and collaboration with the school board.”

The center will be the home pool for the district’s three high school swim teams and will also be used by local year-round swim teams.

District and city 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.

Council members Todd Olds and Virginia Jamison voted against awarding the contract. At the Finance Committee meeting on May 17, Olds said his concern is that the facility is going to cost more than $1 million to operate annually. 

Brinson estimates that number to be closer to $750,000, and said some of the cost will be offset by additional economic development expected in the area as a result of the center. 

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.