By Tina Alvey
A divided Greenbrier County Commission has committed $1.1 million to construction costs connected with the restoration of an indoor swimming pool located on a college campus.
Once construction is complete — perhaps as soon as late spring — the pool in the Fine Arts building on the Lewisburg campus of New River Community and Technical College will begin its new life as a public facility, operated by the county.
Tuesday evening’s commitment of money from the county’s Arts and Recreation Fund was the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of discussions, according to commission President Betty Crookshanks.
She noted that a previous commission voted in late 2001 to impose a hotel/motel tax on patrons of the county’s lodging establishments. It is that “bed tax” that pours money into the Arts and Recreation Fund and from there into various qualifying community projects, such as libraries, parks and youth sports programs.
Crookshanks said a survey conducted in conjunction with the imposition of the hotel/motel tax showed that most people in the county wanted an indoor public pool. The estimated price tag of $12 million for a county recreation center derailed the project early on, Crookshanks added.
Debate over the wisdom of renovating the old Greenbrier College for Women pool on the New River campus often centered on the financial burden the facility’s ongoing operating expenses would represent. But Crookshanks said a budget crafted by county grant coordinator Roy Gwinn — who will serve as the swimming pool’s manager — paints a more favorable financial picture.
“(The Aquatic Center) should be breaking even,” Crookshanks said, adding, “There are lots of grants (available).”
She also noted that the county has already received donations and firm commitments for additional funding, including a $30,000 per year pledge from “one gentlemen,” whom she declined to identify.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big drain on the Arts and Recreation money,” Crookshanks said. “This is something that we can afford to do.”
Crookshanks, who lost her bid for a third term on the commission earlier this year, said a “Friends of the Pool” group is now forming. That group will stage fundraisers and offer support for a range of activities at the Aquatic Center. Its first task will be to raise $40,000 for what Crookshanks termed the pool’s “start-up costs.”
Casting the lone vote against the $1.1 million initial outlay, Commissioner Michael McClung cautioned, “It’s definitely not going to be a cash cow for the county of Greenbrier. I fear it will be a financial drain. Swimming pools don’t make money.”
He questioned the decision to invest so much county tax revenue in constructing a swimming pool in a building the county doesn’t even own.
“You don’t build barns on rented pastures,” he quipped.
McClung also warned that the ongoing expenses involved in operating the pool could translate into less money being available for other community projects in the future.
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