Spread The Word

It is well documented that community aquatic centers offer many benefits—recreation, health, and wellness to name a few—while helping to build a greater sense of community and a higher quality of life. However, the costs to build, operate, and maintain an aquatic center or other recreational amenities can be challenging. Often, communities look toward special funding sources, such as a dedicated sales tax or other tools, to provide these amenities. And, while the idea of a new, modern community aquatic center may be popular, persuading the community to actually vote for such a project may take some work. 

For Beloit, Kan., a small rural community with a population of just under 4,000, a highly energized grassroots campaign proved to be the key to success at the ballot box. 

Get The Ball Rolling

Challenged by safety and accessibility issues, outdated equipment, high maintenance costs, and low attendance, the Beloit community was confronted with the prospect of closing its aging municipal pool. A concerned group of citizens (aka the pool committee) mobilized to develop and promote a plan for a new aquatic center.

Approached by the committee, the city council agreed to hire an architect and aquatic designer to study the potential for a new facility.

A community survey was conducted to gauge public support for a center, the features and programs desired, and the preferred location. 

Two potential sites were identified and evaluated to better understand the opportunities and challenges presented by each. The design team and pool committee held a citizen forum to discuss the merits and challenges of each site and to solicit feedback. One site was an available property with highway access, school district amenities, and more recent outlying development. The other was the site of the existing pool located in the town’s original community park, near the established downtown business district. Ultimately, the committee recommended building the new aquatic center on the latter site, citing survey results, the desire to invest in the downtown area, and passionate support by residents for the location at Chautauqua Park.

Once the location was determined, the design team began developing concepts for the pool using data collected from the surveys, discussions with city council and committee members, and feedback from other public meetings to guide their plans.

Recreation And Wellness Benefits

A common goal was to create a pool that appealed to families and swimmers of all ages by offering aquatic features that had both recreational and health/wellness benefits. One of the key features incorporated into the design that best meets this goal is the lazy river, which winds its way through the leisure pool. Swimmers can float through the channel on tubes, or they can walk the channel for exercise or as part of a therapeutic program. The placement of this channel provides an integrated aquatic center that allows swimmers to move from one feature to another without ever leaving the water. Lap lanes for exercise/therapy were also included to provide additional health/wellness opportunities.

Other features in the design that appeal to and accommodate a range of swimmers are zero-depth entry, a diving well, a variety of water slides (toddler, family, drop, and serpentine), deck sprays, and shade structures throughout the pool deck. A new bathhouse with naturally ventilated and lighted changing rooms, staff offices, and concessions—along with a new equipment building—were also designed to support the operations of the center.

Another goal expressed by the community for the aquatic center was to enhance the beauty of the popular Chautauqua Park. The design achieves this goal by keeping existing site elements that were cherished by the community, including a large adjacent park shelter and several old and established trees. 

Promoting The Project

The study completed by the architects determined the cost to construct the facility as envisioned by the community was $4 million. To fund the project, an increase of .03 percent to the city’s sales tax was required. City council agreed to put the sales-tax measure before a vote of the community. Approximately 700 votes were needed for the project to move forward. 

The pool committee began promoting the project to voters. A dedicated website (beloitpool.com) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/beloit.pool?fref=ts andhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Vote-YES-on-June-7th-2011-for-the-New-Beloit-Pool/134596433284944?fref=ts) were created to reach voters with pertinent information. Architects provided color renderings of the completed project to share with the community via these social-media channels.

The committee used a letter-writing campaign to engage current pool patrons as project ambassadors, and to solicit their help in promoting the project to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

“Cool with the Pool” T-shirts were designed to promote the project as well as to raise funds for the campaign. They were sold at community events and worn by supporters in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Letters to the editor were also written by project supporters. Local newspaper, television, and radio outlets provided objective and factual reports about the proposed aquatic center and the required financing. Paid advertisements in local media outlets helped to explain the project and to promote the benefits of an aquatic center.

Information luncheons and “Pool of Blue” events were held by the committee to disseminate information about the project—design, construction, financing—and to energize the community around this issue. 

Swim noodles provided by the committee gave form to not-so-typical campaign signs in yards around town. A contest was held to determine the winner of the most creative campaign sign. 

The committee sponsored a float in the community’s Welcome Home Parade, which took place just days before the vote. Supporters, wearing their “Cool with the Pool” T-shirts, rode on and walked behind the float. The committee also used other community events to promote the project, such as the county health fair, where the group hosted a concession stand with home-baked goodies. Proceeds from the sale supported the campaign. 

The committee also leveraged its social-media tools to rock a “Get out the Vote” campaign. Voters were reminded to register to vote, notified when advanced voting began, and encouraged to vote on Election Day.

A Successful Project

The efforts of the 12-month grassroots campaign paid off. With a margin of 700 to 300, voters approved the measure to increase the city’s sales tax in order to build the new aquatic center. 

Since its opening, the center has been widely popular, drawing swimmers not only from Beloit but from surrounding communities in North Central Kansas. The overwhelming success of the project can be attributed to the collaboration of the design team with an energetic citizens’ group comprised of people who are known and trusted in the community and have a vested interest, tailoring the facility design to meet the unique needs of the community as well as clearly communicating the health and quality of life benefits such a facility brings.

Kerry Newman, AIA, LEED AP, is a Principal of SFS Architecture in Kansas City, Mo. Reach himr at (816) 474-1397 or knewman@sfsarch.com.