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YMCA answers questions about pool

Echo Press graphic This drawing, based on plans from Water Technology Inc. and JLG Architects, gives an idea of how the Alexandria Area YMCA's aquatic center will look.

Some questions have surfaced about the Alexandria Area YMCA's aquatic center.

Some are wondering how big the pool will be, what water activities will be offered, why a bigger pool can't be built and if the facility matches what the community wants.

The Echo Press interviewed Jeff Bartholomew, executive director of the Alexandria Area YMCA, about those topics and more. Here, in question and answer format, is what the newspaper found:

How big will the pool be?

The YMCA's aquatic center will include 4,528 square feet of water space. That's approximately the size of the pool at Discovery Middle School. The Y's pool, however, is constructed in a multi-functional fashion to address the community's priorities, Bartholomew said.

The aquatic center will be divided into two main areas:

• A three-lane pool, 75 feet long, 21 feet wide, with depths ranging from three and a half feet deep to nine feet. The three lap lanes will be used for lane swimming and the area will also provide ideal space for progressive lessons and water exercise classes, Bartholomew said.

• A separate pool area, measuring 42 feet across, featuring a "zero-depth entry" or gradual slope into the pool, making it easily assessable for those in wheel chairs or water walkers. The maximum depth of this pool is three and a half feet.

This area will be used for year-round progressive lessons, recreational opportunities, a full range of water exercise classes, water therapy and rehabilitation (through a cooperative agreement with the Douglas County Hospital), and senior programming.

This part of the pool will include a 90-foot waterslide, pop-up jets and a whale slide.

"I really would like to dispel the incorrect perception that we are building a small pool facility," Bartholomew said. "With slightly more square footage than the existing pool at Discovery, this pool is quite large in size and designed to meet a wide variety of programming priorities."

The progressive swim community, recreational users, water exercise participants and the rehab/therapeutic community will be "extremely pleased" with the size and usability of the aquatic center, Bartholomew predicted.

Lap swimmers will also enjoy extended hours of operation, which will increase the access they currently have at Discovery, Bartholomew added.

How did the YMCA decide to build a pool?

Before planning any part of the facility, YMCA leaders sent out surveys, encouraged residents to make comments online (which generated 23 pages of suggestions), met with 50 area businesses and organizations to identify critical needs, and held seven town hall feedback forums.

"We wanted to make sure we were building what the community wanted us to build," said Bartholomew. "This was critical as we would be asking the community to support this project financially with donations."

After gathering all the input, the YMCA board worked with two national YMCA field experts to develop a list of priorities.

At the top of the list was a child care facility. A warm water pool ranked second, followed by a gymnasium (third), senior programming and senior-friendly facilities (fourth) and outdoor field space (fifth).

Within aquatics, there was a subset of priorities, including year-round progressive lessons, recreational swimming, water exercise classes, therapeutic/rehab services programming and lap swimming.

After ranking all the priorities, the YMCA developed a plan to match what the community wanted.

Initially, the YMCA had hoped to construct a dual pool environment, however, it became clear in the early stages that this would be cost prohibitive due to the estimated construction costs to build the facility that included all YMCA facility and programming priorities, Bartholomew said.

The YMCA held a second set of town hall meetings to present the final plans to the community and based on the input received at those meetings, moved forward with the current plan.

Why isn't the YMCA building a pool with more lanes for competitive swimming?

Bartholomew said that during the extensive public input phase of the plan, the community did not express a strong desire to include competitive swimming at the YMCA.

The strong preference was for a pool that would provide progressive lessons, recreational opportunities, programs for families and seniors and lap swimming.

"Competitive swimming did not crack the list of priorities," he said.

Later, when the plans for the pool area were presented at public meetings, no one expressed objections, Bartholomew said. Because of that, the YMCA proceeded with the aquatic center plan.

"We have been very public with our existing plan for the past two years and feel very strongly that we have done due diligence to the planning process and are building an aquatic venue that will be fully capable of serving all our programming priorities," he said.

Bartholomew added that most YMCA aquatic centers are similar to the one proposed in Alexandria. Less than 10 percent of pools built today are six or eight-lane rectangular pools, he said.

"Pools are designed to meet your community and programming priorities and we feel that we have done that," the director said.

Demographic trends indicate that by the year 2030, 65 percent of the local population will be 55 years of age and older, and that young families will continue to move to the area to find jobs.

Those trends, coupled with the fact that an eight-lane pool already exists in the community, pointed to a multi-functional pool design, he said.

Will the pool be able to meet the community's demand?

YMCA leaders feel strongly that they have designed a pool that will more than adequately accommodate the vast majority of the community's aquatic needs, Bartholomew said.

"Like most YMCAs, prime-time [4 to 8 p.m.] will provide scheduling challenges, however, regardless of the size of our facility, this time frame is typically our busiest," Bartholomew said.

One aspect that will help accommodate demand for pools is the YMCA's hours, Bartholomew said. Although hours haven't been established yet, a typical YMCA is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Who came up with the design of the pool area?

The YMCA's design review team worked with Water Technology Incorporated on the pool plan.

It shared the priority list with the Wisconsin-based company, which has been involved in building or designing 46 YMCA pools across the country.

"We asked them to use their creativity and design a pool that would adequately address our programming priorities and our budget," said Bartholomew.

Could the YMCA add more lanes now instead of later?

If dollars were unlimited, it would have been ideal to build a six-lane pool, Bartholomew said. But pools are expensive - typically the single-biggest expense in any YMCA that's built.

"We have to work within the confines of our budget," Bartholomew said.

The YMCA had a budget of just under $9 million to work with. It's not quite there yet; the YMCA is still about $750,000 short of its goal, but Bartholomew added that raising that amount of money is a testament to how much the community wants a YMCA. Early on in the process, the YMCA's own consultants said the most that could be expected to be raised here was $5.5 million.

"Raising so much money for a single project is unprecedented in Alexandria, with the exception of St. Mary's expansion," Bartholomew said.

The director emphasized that no tax dollars or government funds are involved in the project.

The YMCA is a non-profit organization that relies on donations from individuals, businesses and foundations to construct facilities. Budgets to run YMCA facilities are solely driven by membership revenue, program revenue, special events and grants or contributions.

Could the YMCA add more lanes at a later date?

Yes, Bartholomew said. He said that there is plenty of room for expansion on the site.

The YMCA wants to give the facility a couple years of operation before deciding whether an expansion is needed or what types of facilities would be included.

"We do anticipate an additional campaign within the next three to five years based on our growth and development," he said. "We will once again engage the community and, more importantly, our membership base to determine what is needed and move forward with those plans after detailed planning is concluded."

Bartholomew said it is "extremely common" for YMCAs to add on, typically within a short period of time. Due to funding, it is very uncommon for YMCAs to build their dream facility in one stage, he added.

Bartholomew knows of YMCAs that were built with no pools to start with. The YMCA in Door County, Wisconsin, which Bartholomew directed from 1998 to 2006, constructed a new facility with no pool and within three years added a $5 million aquatic center that's one of the finest in the state.

"We have designed our facility to accommodate future growth - whether it be aquatics, gymnasium space, multi-purpose space, child care, racquetball, etc.," he said.

What will the water temperatures of the pool areas be?

Because both pool areas will share the same water, the temperature will be the same - a "happy median" of 83 degrees, Bartholomew said.

He said that will be warm enough for the therapeutic part of the pool without being too warm for the lap swimmers.