Boosters of a plan to build a $25 million aquatics center in Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays presented their idea on Tuesday to a crowd of about 60 people, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for the project, with the only criticism being that perhaps organizers weren’t thinking big enough.
Southampton Town Aquatics Recreation, Inc., a nonprofit, whose first effort to build a public pool in town was shot down in the mid-1990s, has quietly reorganized and has proposed a facility that would include a 25-meter competition pool, a warm water physical therapy pool and a leisure pool with water park elements designed for families and children.
The group plans to raise the $25 million need to build the facility through private donations. It also plans to raise an additional $6 million for seed money to fund operation of the facility. It has asked the Southampton Town Board to provide it with a low-cost lease so it can build the center at Red Creek Park. The board has yet to act on that request, although members expressed enthusiasm for the project when STAR presented it to them earlier this year.
“You are going to be overrun before you open the door,” said MegAnn Preiss, a Southampton resident who teaches synchronized swimming to children at the East Hampton YMCA. She said that facility is so heavily used that her classes have to be scheduled at 7 p.m. on school nights.
She asked why STAR was not considering construction of a 50-meter Olympic pool and said she feared if fundraising was not as robust as projected that the proposal for three separate pools might be scaled back.
“I do hope you recognize it won’t be just thousands, it will be tens of thousands,” added East Hampton resident Jim Arnold, a member of that town’s ocean rescue team, of the number of people who will flock to a public aquatics center. “If you build it right, they will come.”
Dr. Josephine DeVincenzi, a retired Southampton School District administrator, who has been the public face of the latest drive for a public pool, said a 50-meter pool had been ruled out when the STAR commissioned a feasibility study by Counsilman-Hunsaker, a consulting and design firm.
“When Counsilman-Hunsaker came on the scene, it was their professional opinion that we couldn’t sustain that size pool here,” she said. Not only would a 50-meter pool cost about $3 million more to build, but it would cost more to maintain and heat and require more lifeguards.
She added a larger pool could be put back on the table if fundraising proved to be easier and quicker than originally estimated.
As part of Tuesday’s presentation, Dr. DeVincenzi announced that STAR’s website, staraquacenter.com, is now online with information about the project and how people can donate to the effort.
She was joined by George Deines of Counsilman-Hunsaker and Evan Eleff, a partner with Sports Facilities Advisory, a company that manages recreational facilities across the country.
Mr. Eleff said that across the United States about 5 million children have dropped out of organized sports over the past five years. At the same time, the number of obese children in this country continues to skyrocket, with 40 percent of teenaged girls and 35 percent of boys now classified as obese. Furthermore, he said, the number of poor children having access to opportunities for physical recreational activities is declining. By contrast, some sports, including swimming, have seen an uptick in participation over the past decade, he said.
Dr. DeVincenzi said she got involved with STAR after two Southampton children died in drowning accidents. “I found it incredible a young man couldn’t swim 10 feet to an overturned boat,” she said referring to one of those drownings.
Rick Stott, a Southampton architect, who has done the initial design work for the proposed facility, said he was a competitive swimmer as a young man and used to travel an hour to get to a pool to swim several times a week. “To have a facility only minutes away, instead of hours away, is going to make a huge difference,” he said.
He then asked people in the audience a series of questions about their relationship to swimming and asked those who answered “yes” to stand up. Soon those who were competitive swimmers were standing next to people who said they did not know how to swim or those who had undergone physical therapy for an injury. They were soon joined by those who knew of someone who had drowned.
“Anyone left sitting down?” he asked, looking around the room. “You guys don’t know it, but you need this facility too.”