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story.lead_photo.caption A construction worker puts the finishing touches on windows installed in the front of the aquatic center in Pine Bluff. Once finished, the center will have an eight-lane short course competition pool, and leisure and exercise pool areas among other amenities. - Photo by Dale Ellis

PINE BLUFF -- A public aquatics center, a dream envisioned by each of the city's past three mayors, will soon be a reality.

City officials say that the Pine Bluff Aquatics Center is set to open in late June or early July. Crews are entering the final phase of construction on the 36,000-square-foot facility that will cost just over $11 million.

Funded by the 2011 "Penny for Progress" tax, the aquatics center will include the only public-access pool in the city of 42,000, according to T.R. Santos, who will serve as director of the aquatics center.

"It will serve all of our citizens, from the babies to the senior citizens," Mayor Shirley Washington said. "Our seniors can come do water aerobics and other exercises; we can offer swim lessons for the kids who can't swim, a competition-level pool for those who can; and people can use the party rooms for all kinds of activities. I've even had calls from people wanting to hold family reunions here.

"We are really looking forward to the smiles on the faces of the kids and the excitement in this community when we cut the ribbon."

Pine Bluff is among a number of Arkansas cities that have invested in aquatics centers, including Little Rock, Benton, Jacksonville, Cabot, Russellville and Rogers. The centers have gained popularity in recent years because standard public pools are limited in their offerings, officials said, and aquatics centers allow for numerous activities to be held at the same time.

Pine Bluff's climate-controlled facility will feature an eight-lane, 25-yard short course competition pool, a children's wading pool, a whirlpool, a therapy pool and a two-story water slide, according to Santos, who has been involved in the project as a consultant since February 2018 and will be responsible for the daily operations of the center. It will have a state-of-the-art timing scoreboard, will accommodate up to 1,600 people and will have a pool capacity of 500 swimmers.

It also will have two party rooms, a conference room, a reception area, men's and women's locker rooms with showers, office space and a kitchenette.

The facility was designed by Counsilman-Hunsaker, a St. Louis aquatics design firm founded by former Olympic and International Swimming Hall of Fame coach James "Doc" Counsilman and former national champion swimmer Joe Hunsaker. The firm also designed the Rogers Aquatics Center in Northwest Arkansas and the aquatics center at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Washington promised during her 2016 campaign to finish the aquatics center, but efforts in the project go back to former Mayors Carl Redus and Debe Hollingsworth. In fact, Washington invited Redus and Hollingsworth to be part of the groundbreaking last May and has said she plans to invite them back for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"I think it's only right that they were here for the groundbreaking and that they be on hand for the ribbon-cutting," Washington said. "I can't take all the credit for this. Three mayors got this built."

Originally the facility was planned as a two-building aquatics center and multipurpose complex, but plans changed after officials realized fundraising would fall short of what would be needed for that concept.

"We weren't able to raise the funds to build two buildings, so we decided to work on one full-scale aquatics center and to leave space to build a multipurpose center at some time in the future," Washington said. "So we expanded the original plans for the aquatic center, and once we get it up and running, and when we see that we can manage a second building, we'll look at it again."

Santos pointed out a number of features during a recent tour that he said will make the center one of the best in the state.

He said the filtration system automatically monitors the pH levels in all the pools, making adjustments as needed, and it will be able to alert him through a telephone app should any of the levels move too far from optimum.

"I can actually make adjustments from my phone, although I doubt I'll be doing that," said Santos, who previously was the aquatics center director at Russellville. "I'll be right here, so it won't be necessary."

Santos said the sand filtration tanks and pumps can move 250,000 gallons of water -- the capacity of the competition pool -- in as little as four hours, which ensures the water is clean and pH levels are optimum for swimming.

The competition pool will boast a state-of-the-art competition level timing system, a scoreboard, touch pads and clocks.

"We'll be able to run a top-notch swim meet equal to anything in the state," Santos said. "We've had interest from some of the schools about starting a swim program for their students -- I can't say which ones, because that's still in the works -- but the interest is out there."

The therapy pool area will have a wading pool for children, a sitting pool with seating along all four walls, a whirlpool and an exercise pool that will include basketball hoops and a volleyball net. The therapy pool is being built with a wheelchair ramp, and the facility will have a PVC wheelchair to assist the handicapped to access the pool.

The exercise pool will host WaterinMotion water-fitness training classes, Santos said. For senior citizens, it will host SilverSneakers Splash classes, a shallow-water activity that uses a splash-board to increase movement and intensity options, he said.

"This city has been without a public pool pretty much since the 1960s, so this is really the first access for the community to have a pool in many years," Santo said. "You can imagine, we have a lot of people who don't know how to swim, so that's something we're really going to focus on."

Santos said the plan is to form a swim team at some point to compete with other teams from around the state.

"I've been a competitive coach all my life in California and other places, and to just walk in and see the caliber of this place is really impressive," he said. "They're doing this right."

State Desk on 03/31/2019

Print Headline: Aquatics center on track for summer opening in Pine Bluff


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  • eaglescout
    March 31, 2019 at 11:35 a.m.

    Sounds like too many things going on in one location. Local communities seem to forget that the cost of upkeep and staffing looms shortly after the initial high cost of construction. Communities from coast to coast never discuss upkeep and unexpected repair initially and find the cost prohibitive when they occur. What is the over/under on this place becoming a boondoggle? Any estimate on the cost of utilities? Jobs for the unemployed "utes"?

  • GeneralMac
    March 31, 2019 at 1:47 p.m.

    9 homicides in just the first 3 MONTHS of this year and the big shots are concerned about an Aquatic Center ?

    At the rate Pine Bluff is LOSING population every year, there soon won't be any people to pay for it or even to use it.

  • MaxCady
    March 31, 2019 at 3:43 p.m.

    What about King Cotton?

  • Knuckleball1
    March 31, 2019 at 9:42 p.m.

    I understand that money was raised to fund the project, but there is no money to run the day to day operation or pay the light bill....