Aquatic center closer to reality

By Sharon Wittke

The clock is ticking for Carbondale Park District to reach its goal of raising $625,000 for the city’s new aquatic center.

A grant for $2.5 million was awarded to the Carbondale Park District in October for the specific purpose of building an outdoor swimming pool, said Kathy Renfro, the district’s executive director.

She said the grant is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and uses federal stimulus money.


“In order to receive the money, we have to raise a match of at least 25 percent,” Renfro said.

Another condition of the grant is that the pool must be operational no more than 30 months from the date the grant was awarded, Renfro said, meaning the pool must be open for business by June 2014.

The site for the new aquatic center will most likely be in the Superblock area near Carbondale Middle School, she said.

Renfro said much of the money will be raised through the park district’s capital campaign, “Make a Splash for Carbondale,” which will officially debut at the May 20 opening of the city’s splash park at Attucks Park.

She said the campaign is emphasizing that donations of any amount are welcome and no amount of money is too small.

The concept for the aquatic center began in 2003, when Carbondale’s human relations council looked at ways to improve relationships among the city’s neighborhoods, she said.

The council decided a community pool was a good way for people to interact, Renfro said, because people communicate easily when they’re relaxed and enjoying the outdoors.


“There’s something different about being there in your bathing suit, playing in the water on a hot summer day,” she said.

Sally Wright, associate director of recreational sports and services programs at SIUC,  was one of the human relations council members who began researching options for a pool in 2004.

She said she and several other members of the council formed a citizen’s advisory committee to the Park District in 2005 with a goal of building a state-of-the-art aquatic center in Carbondale.

Wright said a pool would provide a place for all community members to gather and strike up conversations with people from different socioeconomic, religious and political backgrounds.

“We all float the same,” she said.

Wright said she thinks raising the money will be a challenge, but she believes the community is up to the task.

She said during the past 40 years, the city has tried periodically to build a community swimming pool.

“I’m really excited about what lies ahead,” she said. “This, to me, is the closest we’ve ever come to feeling like we were really going to accomplish this.”

Rick Erickson, vice president of the park district’s board, said raising money through the capital campaign and seeking contractors’ requests for proposal to build the aquatic center would happen simultaneously.

He said despite past problems with building a community pool, which included arguments made by citizens who thought a pool would be too great of an expense, the board is going to move forward and aggressively seek donations.

He said the new aquatic center will become a destination for people in the region as well as a place for Carbondale’s residents to enjoy.

Renfro said most likely people living within the park district will pay lower fees than those outside of the district to use the aquatic center, but that it will be important for everyone in southern Illinois to have access to the proposed facility.

“If people engage, they will have a healthier lifestyle — both mental and physical health will increase from outdoor activity,” she said.