lewisburg — Described in promotional material as “a social and recreational center for all ages,” the proposed Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center has been in the works for two years, but project details weren’t widely publicized until Monday evening.
Those details are the product of a collaboration among internationally acclaimed architect TAG Galyean, Greenbrier East High School engineering teacher Kevin Warfield and students who are studying architecture, engineering and business at the school.
One hurdle in the project’s development has already been cleared, with the State Fair of West Virginia’s agreement in principle to donate 4.6 acres of land in Fairlea as a site for the 22,400-square-foot facility, thus knocking $230,000 in property acquisition expenses off the proposed budget.
Interest in the project is high, the students — Joseph Londeree, Kara Vaughan and Amber Harper — reported in a public presentation Monday to around 75 people at Greenbrier Valley Theatre.
Vaughan said the group had surveyed 203 people and found that 93 percent approved of the project, while 75 percent said they would purchase a membership in the aquatic center if it is built.
Among the details laid out in a brochure that was provided to attendees are the cost of memberships, proposed hours of operation and activities and classes that would be offered at the Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center (GVAC).
The facility would provide swimming lessons and water safety courses for children, along with limited exercise facilities for adults, a recreation pool open to all and additional classes designed for seniors, according to the brochure.
Schematics show three state-of-the-art pools — a therapy spa pool, recreation pool and six-lane, 25-meter competition pool, complete with retractable bleachers — along with such amenities as exercise, party and senior club rooms, a kitchen, changing and shower rooms, a splash dish for youngsters and an outdoor concession stand. The building is wrapped in deep covered and open terraces.
“This is not a recreation building with a pool,” Galyean emphasized. “This is a first class aquatic center.”
Conceding that “finances have to be worked out,” Galyean said he believes the GVAC will pay for itself with a revenue potential of more than $800,000 annually.
“I believe this is doable,” he said.
Asked where the estimated $5.5 million construction budget will come from, Londeree confidently predicted grants and donations would combine to foot the bill, noting, “We have a lot of wealthy people here in this town.”
Galyean said that in addition to rolling out the plan earlier to local Rotary clubs and the Shepherd’s Center of Greenbrier Valley, he has also provided private presentations to two of the bigger local foundations.
Despite reporting a great deal of enthusiasm from those presentations — and observing the same at Monday evening’s PowerPoint event — Galyean answered a question about funding by saying, “We don’t have any answers tonight.”
Dr. John Wilson, who is on the State Fair’s board of directors, suggested that the Greenbrier County Commission could help fund the GVAC’s ongoing operation, since it will be run as a nonprofit. He said the county could increase its hotel/motel occupancy tax from the current 3 percent to 4 percent, thereby taking in an additional $300,000 a year, which could be shared with the aquatic center.
In an interview following the public presentation, Commissioner Mike McClung noted that half of the occupancy taxes the county collects from lodging establishments go to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Thus, if the county were to increase its tax by 1 percent, the net to commission coffers would be closer to $150,000 than $300,000.
Besides, neither he nor commission President Woody Hanna expressed any immediate enthusiasm for raising the tax.
Both commissioners, however, voiced support in the interview for the proposed aquatic center and dismissed a question that had been raised during the presentation about whether the GVAC would suffer from competition offered by the county-funded SportsPlex now being built near Lewisburg. There are no plans for a swimming pool at the SportsPlex, they said.
“The two would complement each other,” Hanna said, pointing out that he had long ago supported construction of a swimming facility on the campus of Greenbrier East High School.
The proposed site for the GVAC is only about a quarter-mile from the school, and Hanna said he has discussed with Dr. Wilson the possibility of the State Fair board giving consideration to donating a different parcel, closer to the school, for the aquatic center.
Wilson, who had stepped into the newspaper interview at that point, remarked that the site “isn’t set in stone,” but made no promises on behalf of the fair’s board to consider a change.
With the SportsPlex emphasizing ball fields and the GVAC centered on swimming, McClung said, “The two are not mutually exclusive. They’re not similar in use.”
But he said the county already supports a pool in Rainelle and has earmarked $250,000 for a White Sulphur Springs pool project.
“I’m not opposed to this project,” he said. “I wish them all the luck in the world. I hope it works out.”
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For more information on the proposed swimming facility or to become involved in the project, write to Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center, 674 Church St., Lewisburg, WV 24901.
The website, www.greenbriervalleyaquaticcenter.com, is not yet operational.