By Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — It's going to take a lot of time and money to build a state-of-the-art aquatics center in the Mount Washington Valley, but the 115 people who turned out to the Red Jacket Tuesday night for the feasibility study unveiling believe it's possible and are eager to get started.
Board members for the local White Mountain Aquatic Foundation shared their hopes and dreams during an 80-minute presentation. For a complete turn-key operation, it is going to cost in the neighborhood of $14 million, and that does not include the purchase of land and yearly taxes.
The facility, which would include two pools (one for competitive swimming and another for water aerobics, therapy and even a water slide), two meeting rooms, weight and fitness room, studios for yoga, aerobics and zumba, along with locker rooms would be between 30,000 and 35,000 square feet in size and would ideally fit on a five- to 10-acre lot.
"Tonight, we're here to build a pool," Jeff Rothen, WMAF president, said, drawing a round of applause from the enthusiastic crowd as he opened the the meeting
Rothen said the meeting was the first step in many to follow and explained how the foundation got to this point. It all started in the 2006-07 when Maury McKinney, Joe LaRue, Steve Johnson and Jim Soroka were getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to Laconia to swim in the indoor pool there. They decided after weeks of making the trip: Why not try to build a pool in this neck of the woods? They placed an ad in The Conway Daily Sun and a handful of people responded with interest in building a pool, and the ball started rolling.
In 2008, McKinney drew national attention to the pool effort by swimming 42 miles nonstop back and forth across Lake Winnipesaukee. Soroka also aided the effort by competing on the world triathlon stage. Through their public displays, donations began to arrive from across the country.
In 2011, the aquatic center opened at the New England Inn in Intervale and the 20-by-40-foot pool is "great for teaching kids, not for swimming laps," Rothen said.
The Saco Valley Swim Team was formed, and coach McKinney currently has 76 student athletes on his team.
"Maury has been the face of our organization and his dedication is amazing," Rothen said and invited McKinney to say a few words.
"We need a pool," said McKinney with a wide smile. He has taught 25-30 swim lessons a week for 48 weeks out of the year for the past seven years, and explained that when the foundation first came into being, members set up a Google account and the password was "weneedapool" and that has been the mantra every since.
"We feel like now we can make good use of a pool," McKinney said. "We can care for and manage a pool responsibly. Six and a half years ago we started out with a dream. Now we have programs in place that service this community from age six months to 96 years old. We've been learning how to run an aquatic center and how to enhance people's lives. I really believe this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Last spring, the foundation chose Counsilman‐Hunsaker, a nationally ranked pool-design firm based in St. Louis, Mo., to complete the feasibility study. Kevin Post, of Counsilman-Hunsaker, did the presentation Tuesday night. He has conducted feasibility studies across the United States.
"Kevin Post said it was one of the top 10 presentations he had done in terms of attendance, enthusiasm, good questions," McKinney said Wednesday. "He was in Jacksonville, Fla., last week and just 30 people came out for a meeting about building a 50-meter pool complex."
As principal and studio director for Counsilman-Hunsaker, Post specializes in providing facility evaluations, aquatic facility business plans, city-wide aquatic master plans, and Certified Pool Operator instruction and certification, according to the company's website. He is also a past competitive swimmer and aquatics director.
"I do community meetings all over the country, it's very rare we get this sort of turnout," Post said. "To see over 100 people on a Tuesday night is really great."
Post said recreational swimming "has skyrocketed" in recent years to the point where swimming is now the third most popular sport or exercise activity. He said there are approximately 314 million visits to recreational water sites each year.
Post explained the feasibility study process was broken down into three categories: Needs Assessment; Program Requirements; and an Operations Plan. Those three categories led to the initial study of three different options.
Option 1 (one-pool option) — an indoor 5,500-square-foot multi-purpose pool with six 25-yard lanes, springboard diving, children's spray amenities, and required support spaces. Projected cost $9,100,000.
Option 2 (two-pool option) — an indoor eight-lane 25-yard lap pool with springboard diving, 4,350-square-foot leisure pool with spray amenities, 165-square-foot warm water spa, current channel and a water slide. Projected cost $13,900,000.
Option 3 (three pool option) — an indoor 25 yard by 25 meter lap pool with springboard diving, 4,350-square-foot indoor leisure pool with play feature and waterside, and a separate 1,350-square-foot therapy pool. Projected cost $16,800,000.
"Based on the initial study options," Post said, "the committee recommended that a two-pool option with a larger training capacity in the lap pool, enhanced warm-water pool for therapy programs and increased fitness spaces would best meet the needs of this community."
Post said that led to the narrowing from three to two options.
Option A — an indoor 25 yard by 25 meter lap pool, 165-square-foot warm water spa, a separate 3,650-square-foot leisure pool with spray amenities and a water slide along with 6,700 square feet of fitness space.
Option B — an indoor 25 yard by 25 meter lap pool, 165-square-foot warm water spa, a separate 4,130-square-foot leisure pool with spray amenities and 6,700 square feet of fitness space.
The total cost for the two-pool concept, which would include everything from construction of the building to furniture fixtures and inflation would be $14 million.
"That would be the turnkey value," Post said.
Post added that beside the pools there would be an aerobics, dance or group exercise component room as well as meeting room and room for multi-purpose use. There would also be space to incorporate cardio and weight-training equipment; and two community rooms that could be rented out for parties, meetings or special events. One of the rooms would feature a dividing curtain to turn the room into two rooms.
There would also be male and female locker rooms along with family changing areas and everything will exceed the current ADA requirements.
Post explained the lap pool — 25 yards by 25 meters — would allow for 11 25-yard lanes or 10 25-meter lanes. It features cooler water for training and competition (78-82 degrees). The pool will also come with elevated spectator seating. The foundation envisions hoisting a minimum of 11 meets per year and believes such a facility would allow it to host state and regional swim championships.
Post explained the leisure pool will be a multi-purpose pool for recreation, instruction and therapy. It will feature a zero depth entry with three, four and five-foot areas for maximum program opportunities. It will be a warmer water (85-87 degrees) for youth and adult programs.
Post also offered some financial breakdowns. He said up to 60 percent of the operating expenses for an aquatic facility can be labor.
Post said 60 percent of pool operations (traditional pools) actually operate at a loss; 38 percent operate at break-even thanks to the installation of community water parks; and just two percent operate with a cash flow thanks to destination water parks. He said users vary quite a bit based on geographic regions. For example, in the West and Northeast, the fee is priced as a service while in Central and Southeastern United States, it is set up as a break-even.
Anticipated expenses include faculty (part and full time — up to 30 part-time employees and three to five full-timers); insurance; repairs/maintenance; general supplies; pool chemicals; marketing; utilities; capital replacements.
"For the most part operational expenses are fixed," Post said. "The only way to be successful is you need constant activity sort of like a three-ring circus. You need to offer amenities for a mixture of age groups — it has to be focused on everyone."
Post said the facility will be available for a wide range of group programs: wellness programming (aqua therapy and water aerobics); swim lessons; lifeguard training; personal training; group exercise (yoga and zumba); rentals (birthday parties and private rentals); swim teams (age group, masters and high school); and special events (dive-in movies and summer camps).
Post envisioned individual yearly memberships being roughly $300 while families would be in the neighborhood of $500. There will also be scholarships and discounted memberships available for children.
Audience member Tony Simone asked the question so many were thinking: What's the next step?
"Our development committee will begin to pursue a capital campaign and we'll start looking for land," Rothen said.
The White Mountain Aquatic Foundation is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 that is dedicated to providing a privately funded multiple pool aquatic center in the Mount Washington Valley that will deliver aquatic education, recreation, safety, competition, fitness and rehabilitative programs.