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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
NORTH PORT - The North Port City Commission decided Wednesday to seek a more versatile option than a 50-meter competition swimming pool for an aquatic center at Butler Park.
Instead, the board unanimously voted to ask consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates to design an aquatic center similar to one built in Rogers, Arkansas, that features a 25-yard pool that would be suitable for most high school and college swim meets. As part of that trade-off, the water park would feature more elaborate recreational features, including water slides and a lazy river.
The decision represents a course change from January, when the same board reaffirmed its desire to build a 50-meter pool and lazy river at the park, adjacent to the Morgan Family Community Center.
At that time, the 50-meter pool was envisioned as an economic driver that would attract college and perhaps international swim meets and spur hotel development and - because of its size - be considered a regional project that would qualify for tourism development funds.
Since then, commissioners realized that most local tourism money will likely be dedicated to spring training baseball, and international competitions were a longshot at best.
And once they saw Kimley-Horn's projection that a 50-meter pool and lazy river would likely cost $9 million, sticker shock was a factor, too.
"We went from a $5.6 million pool to $9 million with today's construction costs," Mayor Linda Yates noted.
The city has about $2.3 million budgeted for the Butler Park pool project. That money comes primarily from the local one-cent sales tax. Park impact fees may also be used to help pay for a new pool. As part of its vote to authorize the consultants to bring back a design concept, the board asked staff to identify other possible funding sources.
"If you can decide to move forward soon, I think a $10 million budget will get you a good balanced facility," said Mark Hatchel, vice president and senior aquatic planner at Kimley-Horn.
City Commissioner Chris Hanks, who moved to North Port from Arkansas, brought up the Rogers Aquatics Center as a successful, heavily used park that brought in visitors from several nearby counties.
"My purpose is showing what you can do in a limited space," said Hanks, who noted that the Rogers park was designed on less land than North Port has available at Butler Park.
Hatchel said the park in Rogers is the type of facility that could draw people from within 100 miles - provided similar facilities aren't closer.
Instead of a 25-yard by 50-meter pool, the Butler Park facility would house what's referred to as a stretch 25-yard pool, roughly 25 yards by 42 yards, with a bulkhead that would divide a portion of the pool for cool down lanes or other use. The pool would still feature one-meter and three-meter diving boards.
The facility would also include a lazy river, water slides, a children's pool, shaded rest areas, and a concession stand/bathroom facility - the size and scope of each will be decided by budget constraints.
Kimley-Horn will work on a potential facility that would cost between $10 to $12 million for the board to consider as it seeks a facility that Yates said would be "competitive for our schools but recreational."
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