Grassroots group works to keep the Bay County Community Center Pool afloat

A local group wants to make sure the Bay County Community Center pool re-opens, offering recreational and educational opportunities for people of all ages.

The grassroots effort, Save Bay County Community Center Pool, has been working with county commissioners and Bay County Executive Jim Barcia. Recently, the county agreed to conduct a feasibility study.

The effort got off the ground in March when the county commission closed the Olympic-sized swimming pool at the Bay County Community Center at 800 John F. Kennedy Drive in Veterans Memorial Park. That left many people unhappy.

“While hard decisions were made by the County Board in terms of the current pool, a dedicated crew of swim supporters has banded together in a grassroots effort to ensure a community-based pool is available for future generations,” Barcia says.

Alice Bayn, a local mom and pool advocate, says when the pool was closed, the community lost a valuable resource for people of all ages. The pool attracts families, school-age children, and senior citizens.

“We have the summer recreation program that is grant-funded, and Bay Metro has two lines that service the community pool. Bay City Public Schools comes and brings lunch,” Bayn says.

The pool also is near other recreational amenities including a marina, parks, playground, softball fields, and walking trails.

Barcia says the pool is just one piece of the county’s recreational picture. He says the county is happy to work with the group to determine what the community wants and can support.

In turn, the group praised Barcia for helping them make connections. For example, the county brought in an aquatic consultant to help determine whether the pool could be saved and whether repairs were feasible.

“He said there is nothing about the pool that is a surprise,” Bayn says. “The wear and tear is exactly as he would have expected it to be. It was a very optimistic assessment of the current pool.”

The pool, which opened in the 1970s, has seen its share of weather and wear, but Bayn says the consultant offered different options.

“Because we have the Olympic footprint there, we have a lot of options to repair it, with a warranty of 35 to 30 years,” Bayn says.

The suggested repairs won’t be simple. For example, replacing the steel liner would be costly, but retain the competitive qualities of the pool. That would make the space appealing to athletes as well as recreational swimmers.

She says the consultant presented his assessment to the Board of Commissioners. “It was a very positive meeting. I appreciate the open mindedness of the commissioners that were initially against it,” Bayn adds.

Before any specific recommendations are proposed or implemented, a feasibility study will be conducted.

“This feasibility study will include a survey throughout the whole county to find out what the county and what our residents want, instead of the decision being made by the seven commissioners,” Bayn says.

The county recently sent out a request for bids for the feasibility study.
“This study will gather community input on the desirability of a community pool, features the community wants in said pool, and gather cost estimates for capital and operations of a potential future pool,” Barcia says.
In the meantime, the group continues to advocate to re-open the pool. She and a few others are working toward finding solutions, including coming up with a solid business plan for making a community pool self-sustaining.

Holly Watson, who taught swimming lessons at the community pool for several years and is a member of the grassroots group, says the feasibility study is a sign of success.

“When we originally started this, the number one thing we heard was ‘We can’t afford it. We don’t have the money,’ from several of the commissioners,” Watson says.

Now, the commissioners are starting to talk about options for keeping a pool open.

“We’re a large community in the county, and so it’s really took off and everyone was reaching out and supporting us, and so then the commissioners started to listen to us.”

Watson still teaches swimming lessons in Essexville and is an advocate for water safety. She says getting the commission to understand the need for the pool comes down to safety for kids in the water. (Read more about the swim lessons in this July 6 Route Bay City article.)

“We’re such a water community,” and she’s had overwhelming turnouts for pool school. For her part, she wants to convince the county that the safety of the kids is paramount. “I want kids in the water and there’s nothing worse than those life jackets that people buy – they teach kids that we swim vertically. No, we swim horizontally. We drown vertically.”

Watson got involved with the Facebook group and has seen it gather steam. “It’s not always a bad thing to have people posting stuff on Facebook, you know voicing your concern.”

The Save Bay County Community Center Pool group is counting as a success the county's recent decision to conduct a recreation feasibility study. (Photo courtesy of Bay County)She says it’s getting results.

The pool won’t re-open this year, and possibly not next, but the group is seeing some light.

“We’re looking for ways to utilize the pool and the pool space better,” says Watson. “Like there are some updates, there’s things we can buy so then we can run swim lessons and have older people doing therapy or fitness in it. There’s so much we can do, but we need someone to oversee the pool that wants to take on all these challenges.”

Bay County’s Community Pool is unique in the state. While community pools may be common, pools of Olympic proportions are not. It’s one of the reasons the community group wants to keep it open, and they believe with the right backing they can.

“If we get the funding and it’s not as much money as people are thinking, there are grants.”

Watson and Bayn say after the feasibility study is completed and they’ve come up with a plan, they can start fundraising. They hope that will the help of grants, the estimated $5 million repair bill will be easier to meet.

“There’s all kinds of things available if we take the time to look for them,” says Watson. “That’s what this committee is to help with because the county employees are busy.”

Both women say Barcia has been an asset to the process.

“Recreation is an important building block of a community,” Barcia says. “A community swimming pool has immense value for our children as a place to learn to swim and enjoy their summer in the water.”

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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.