By Justin Reedy
The days of Lovejoy High School's 40 swim team members getting on a bus, riding for 45 minutes to Forest Park and crowding into an undersized pool are almost over.
The swim teams from all of Clayton County's high schools and all area residents should be benefiting soon from a planned aquatic center south of Jonesboro.
Architects have finished designing the center, which is being built in coordination of the county government and the Clayton County school system. The county and the school system are now negotiating a contract on sharing the use and operation of the building, according to John Ramage, assistant superintendent of facilities and construction.
"That's a little difficult because it involves two entities sharing a facility," Ramage said. "We've done that before with other things, but this is a little different because we both have so much money in it."
The contract should be bid out to a contractor soon, Ramage said, with construction slated to begin this summer.
For Lovejoy High School swimming coach Tim Schmidt, it can't come soon enough.
"I know it's going to be great," said Schmidt. "From what I understand, it's going to be a huge improvement over the facility we use now."
Swim teams from the Clayton County school system now share the Forest Park Recreation Center pool, but they have to compete with a Forest Park-based club team for practice time as well. School teams and recreational swimmers will also benefit from the facility's location n near the Harold R. Banke Justice Center on Tara Boulevard south of Jonesboro.
"The thing we'll benefit from it the most is that we'll be able to spend more time in the pool and be able to practice more," Schmidt said. "When we go up to Forest Park, we spend more time on the bus than we do in the pool."
That will help make local swimmers more competitive among schools on the north side of town, which often have dedicated swimming facilities and, consequently, more practice time.
In addition, the new pool will have more lanes than the six-lane pool in Forest Park, as well as dive wells and other advanced features that should benefit competitive and amateur swimmers alike.
Construction of the aquatic center should take about one year, officials say. The cost of the $8 million facility will be split evenly between the Clayton County Board of Education and the county Board of Commissioners.
The county commission's share will be financed by interest accrued from the one-percent special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, which paid for the construction of the Justice Center, according to Wade Starr, assistant to county commission Chairman Crandle Bray. The school board's share of the funding will come from a SPLOST passed in 1999 to finance school construction and other capital improvements.
"Clayton County probably has more state finalists in swimming than any other school system, even though they only have one place to train," Bray said. "We're late in the game for an aquatic center. It's something needed."