The Florence Aquatic Center is likely no more and the city announced Tuesday night that there is a replacement plan.
In a news release, the city announced plans to construct a four-acre park and event space near the Florence Government Center on the site of the shuttered Aquatic Center.
City council previously decided that the Aquatic Center would be closed this summer, the second in a row. Last year, like most other public pools, the center was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But other nearby cities are reopening their pool and water offerings this season.
Florence is not.
“The council is committed to being good stewards of the community’s tax dollars, and takes great care to use those funds wisely,” the city announced in a press release. “Prompted in part by the pandemic’s closure of the Aquatic Center and by questions received about whether it will or should open again, Council looked very closely at the annual costs of maintaining and operating the center, and considered the options. Based on what they found, it was determined that investing the community’s dollars into a new park that would be free to use and open year-round was a much more sustainable and fiscally responsible use of those funds.”
Linda Chapman, the city’s chief financial officer, reported that the average number of people who used the pool daily only represented 2 percent of the city’s population, but the cost to maintain, operate, and staff the facility averaged about $7,500 per day.
The facility, which opened in 2004, was only open ten weeks a year.
The new park announced Tuesday would be open 365 days a year, and would be free to all. Features are to include a multi-level adventure playground that would let children climb, jump, slide, and maybe zipline. It would include splash pads and spray grounds, a place for picnics and dining, a stage for live performances, a multi-purpose event lawn, and swings for children and adults alike.
There will also be indoor space that will be rentable for meetings, weddings, banquets and large family gatherings.
According to the press release, the concepts for the park go beyond just being a play space for the outdoors, but will also use the space to host festivals, shows, exercise classes, farmer’s markets, family movie nights, and ice skating in the winter.
“We’re very excited about the opportunities this new park offers the whole community, and it will be great fun exploring the possible features that could be added,” said Mayor Diane Whalen. “However, this isn’t a concept we want to develop completely on our own. This would be the community’s park, and we want the community’s input on the elements and experiences they’d like the park to include.”
To this end, the city will be posting an online survey this summer on the city website.
The city wants to have firm plans for the space by late summer.
Construction could begin potentially as early as September with a goal of possible completion by the end of 2022.
At the regular council meeting Tuesday night, two residents came to again plead with the city to allow the Aquatic Center to open.
Jenna Kemper has gathered over 7,000 signatures on a petition to reopen the pool, arguing that the pool provides recreation, swim lessons, and a chance to play, exercise, relax, and build relationships.
Whalen, however, said that while it was sad to close the Aquatic Center, it was not a sustainable business model, costing the city a $3.2 million loss since it opened.
As for Independence Day celebrations, it was determined that fireworks would take place in the city on Saturday, July 3 at 10 p.m., or Sunday, July 4 at 10 p.m. if it rains.