Twenty years after Southampton Town residents turned down a referendum to build a public pool at Southampton College, town officials on Thursday heard a new request for an indoor aquatics center, this time at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays.
Board members reacted favorably to the proposal of Southampton Town Aquatic & Recreation to raise $25 million in private donations to build a 43,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that would include a 25-meter competition pool, a second recreational pool with elements of a water park and a warm water physical therapy pool. They have estimated it will cost $19 million to build the center and have committed to raising an additional $6 million as seed money for operating costs.
Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told Josephine DeVincenzi, STAR’s vice president, and Evan Eleff, the executive vice president of Sports Facility Advisory, which would oversee the construction and management of the facility, that they should feel confident they were getting “a warm reception” from the board, but he stressed that a number of details had to be worked out.
The board, he said, would not commit to providing land at the park until it knew exactly where the facility would be placed, what its design would be and how much parking would be required. On top of that, he said the board first wanted to gauge the reaction of the Hampton Bays community before moving forward.
“One concern is about an open-ended commitment,” he said of the group’s request for land. “We can’t hold a piece forever.” He suggested that the board might be willing to set aside land for a period of, say, three years, requiring STAR to raise a third of its funds each year. “You would need to show us you are capable of raising that amount of money,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said he saw the aquatics center “as sort of a sister” to the Southampton Youth Center recreational facility in North Sea, which only has a small outdoor pool. He said the town could probably be counted on to provide some annual funding to STAR, similar to an arrangement it has with SYS, but only as a way to keep down costs for town residents, not to keep it in business.
Ms. DeVincenzi told the board STAR has about $500,000 on hand, money it raised in the 1990s and which it had invested and held since then. The group reorganized several years ago and decided it had to leverage the funds it had to undertake a feasibility study and hire professional consultants “that we believe will be the difference,” she said. Counsilman-Hunsaker, a consulting and design firm that works on public pool projects, helped STAR fine-tune its projected revenue sources and settle on “a right sized” project, she said, while the Sports Facilities Advisory will help bring the project from “concept to concrete,” she said.
Mr. Eleff told the board the group was being conservative in its revenue planning but said the pool would be a boon for the town and said demographics studies show the number of young people is declining, while older segments of the population are growing. One reason, he said, is there is not enough to do, and families with children “want to live in areas where they can raise their kids and have things to do to keep them active, to keep them entertained, to keep them safe.”
He said that the United States is currently in the middle of a disturbing trend: Since 2008, the number of youths involved in organized sports has declined, with active recreation being replaced by computer and video games.
At the same time, “we are winning a race that we do not want to win,” he said, noting that obesity rates are higher in the U.S. than in 15 other industrialized nations. Almost 40 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys between the ages of 5 and 17 are obese, he said.
Plus, he said kids who are active at least three to eight times a week have higher test scores and are less likely to engage in risky activities such as alcohol and drug abuse. Those who are active when they are young tend to remain active when they become adults, he added.
Mr. Eleff also noted that a public pool would provide much needed recreational activities for poor children, adding that nearly 30 percent of families living within a 15-minute drive of the proposed facility make less than $50,000 a year.
The STAR facility would be the most well-equipped aquatics center on Long Island and would provide a boost to the local economy from people attending swimming meets, who would spend their money at motels, restaurants and stores, as well provide space for lifeguard training and specialized activities such as SCUBA diving, consultants argued.