Time for city to get in the swim

Kindergarten students wait their turn as their swim instructor gives swimming lessons Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at the Danny Jones Pool in North Charleston. (Paul Zoeller/File)

It sounds great: A city of Charleston swimming complex that fosters healthy activity, attracts people from out of the area to hotels and motels West of the Ashley and serves the needs of local swim teams and ordinary people.

So it is encouraging that the city has decided to hire a consultant to assess whether such a center is feasible.

City Council member Kathleen Wilson has promoted the idea of a high-quality natatorium for years. It is finally getting some traction.

A world-class swimmer herself, Mrs. Wilson is convinced that the benefits are worth the money and the effort to build one. And she is convinced that the best place would be west of the Ashley, which the city plans to revitalize.

She hopes that the community, which will be invited to give input to the consultant, will support the concept with enthusiasm.

A $19 million, three-pool indoor facility in Greensboro, N.C., much like what Mrs. Wilson would like built here, was financed with a $12 million parks and recreation bond. The remainder came from hotel taxes.

Still, Greensboro has to cover the natatorium’s annual deficit of about $2 million.

But the estimated economic impact of close to $80 million since its 2011 opening is a strong argument in its favor.

The center includes a 50-meter competition pool, a 25-yard pool for teaching and therapy, and a 25-yard diving pool.

It has seating room for 2,500 people.

Aquatic centers in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg and Wake counties have also proven popular and beneficial to the economy.

Mrs. Wilson is correct to insist that the city has spent a lot of time and money on fine arts facilities, but not enough on athletic ones. Diversifying is reasonable.

And since studies show that obesity is one of the most serious health threats in the country, a center where people can swim recreationally would be a wise investment in the well-being of the community.

And as a coastal city with an abundance of rivers and creeks, it is vitally important for people to learn how to swim. An aquatic center would help meet that need.

Proposals for the feasibility study are due by the end of July. The consultant is being asked to gauge community needs, explore funding options, develop a list of potential partners and project costs.

The Wake County facility was built entirely with private funds. The Mecklenburg natatorium was paid for with municipal bonds.

Natatorium managers say facilities are not intended to make money. They usually require some form of public subsidy. But they also provide an important public service.

And for Charleston, it’s a service that would be most welcome.