As Mt. Pleasant explores potential aquatic center, residents welcome the return of a community pool

The outdoor pool at Island Park shut down decades ago, but its absence is still felt in Mt. Pleasant.

“We still miss our old pool at Island Park,” says Dan Natzel, 47, of Mt. Pleasant.

The wheels have been put in motion to bring a community pool back to Isabella County, where the addition of an aquatic center has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. On Aug. 12 the Mt. Pleasant City Commission passed a resolution to be part of a multi-governmental committee that would explore the creation of a recreation authority that would help pay for the construction of the center, City Manager Nancy Ridley says.

Union Township has also agreed to be part of the committee; and, Ridley explains that one more government entity is required. She says Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan, a community volunteer group that has been highly involved in this planning process, is looking to approach the Mt. Pleasant School District to be the third entity.

“I see it being a good match for two reasons – one is they see the community from a much broader perspective, especially the youth perspective; and, the Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan also talked about the need for the pool for the school district to have competitive swim teams,” says Ridley.

The first question the committee will address, Ridley says, is whether to have a recreation authority. If so, they would then look at how it could be implemented and make recommendations to the committee members.

While the passing of this resolution and creation of the committee do not mean an aquatic center will definitely be built – only that this is the next step toward that goal – there are three main questions to address: why is the addition of an aquatic center being discussed, and why now; is an aquatic center sustainable in Isabella County; and, what would an aquatic center do for the community?

Why is the addition of an aquatic center being discussed, and why now?

Community members who enjoy swimming used to have options to do so; however, those opportunities have disappeared over the years, leaving many people wishing for something to fill in the gap.

“I would definitely support the addition of an aquatics center,” says Arielle Hemingway, 28, of Mt. Pleasant.

In 2016, Rose Pool at Central Michigan University closed, impacting everyone from kids learning to swim to Mt. Pleasant High School’s swim team to Special Olympics athletes and more. It was when the discussion of closing Rose Pool started that Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan formed to look into the possibility of adding an aquatic center to the area.

“There’s no inside deep water anywhere in our area,” says Lisa Diaz Sytsema, a member of Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan.

Diaz Sytsema says it was important to the group to determine what the needs of the community were. They also wanted to ensure that if an aquatic center were built it would meet the needs of the community and be a good business model, which is why they hired a consultant to do a feasibility study. Once the consultant revealed there was indeed a need in the community for an aquatic center and described how it would be financially feasible, the project took on a life of its own.

“I think the city feels it’s worthwhile because it has come up as a priority in our master plan process as a desire from the residents who live in the city, and it would be a nice amenity to have in our community,” says Ridley.

Is an aquatic center sustainable in Isabella County?

The feasibility study contracted by Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan was completed in 2018 and revealed an aquatic center would be sustainable in Isabella County.

Ridley explains that the recommendation from the consultant of the type of facility that would be sustainable includes two indoor pools: a stretch 25-yard pool (25 yards by 116 feet) and a warm-water teaching pool. There would also be changing rooms or locker rooms of some type, restrooms, office space, concessions, and a multi-function classroom space.

“The study . . . came out with a conclusion that that aquatic center is sustainable; and, what they mean by that is the revenues generated for using the facility would cover the expenses and maintenance of the facility both in the short-term and the long-term,” says Ridley.

While the revenues generated by the facility would cover its expenses and maintenance, funding the initial construction of the aquatic center would be a different matter – and that’s where the city’s resolution comes in.

“If a recreation authority is created, it could apply for grants, accept donations, and levy taxes,” Ridley explains. “All three of those would provide funds to help construct the aquatic center.”

The prospect of a tax increase to pay for the construction of the aquatic center hasn't deterred many community members from their desire to have it, though.

“I would be willing to pay increased taxes to support a community aquatics center,” says Natzel.

His sentiment was echoed by Hemingway, who says, “I would approve an increase in taxes for something like this.”

What would an aquatic center do for the community?

The aquatic center would provide a location where community members could take swim classes, swim teams could practice, patients could do physical rehab, families could enjoy a year-round indoor public pool, and more.

“It would be a positive addition to our community, provided that it is in a central and convenient location for everyone to use,” says Natzel.

Diaz Sytsema says when Swim Friends of Mid-Michigan spoke with the community one thing they heard over and over was that people wanted a space that would be open to the public – not always reserved for other groups. The study addresses this concern, Diaz Sytsema says.

“The feasibility study, it looks at the aquatic center hour to hour in six different seasons and who would use it when,” she explains. “In all of the times, there is always room — there’s always space available —for the general community. Never is there a time that the pool is open when the community can’t use it. There’s always space reserved for them."