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Water park plan still looking for donors

Facing a now-or-never proposition, the Upper Palmetto YMCA is waiting for a champion to emerge.

The YMCA announced last month it needs to raise or have pledged $1.7 million by mid-January to add an outdoor water park to Clover School District’s aquatic center plan on S.C. 274 north of Crowders Creek Elementary School in Lake Wylie. Voters approved the $14 million center as one of five construction projects in the spring bond referendum. Before the district construction bids go out in February, the YMCA needs the financial commitment. So far, little more than $200,000 is pledged.

“We need a champion,” said Frank “Moe” Bell, CEO of Upper Palmetto YMCA. “We need someone who is going to step in and make a large donation.”

Most of the new fitness and swim facility will be paid for through the bond package. But the district won’t finance an outdoor water park, similar to the one at the Fort Mill YMCA in Baxter, saying it lacks the educational value of meeting space or an indoor pool used by swim teams and to teach children to swim.

The district is, however, supportive of the YMCA’s plan to raise the $1.7 million needed for the water park.

“Having it right here would be a tremendous asset for the community,” said Sherri Ciurlik, school board member and Lake Wylie resident.

Bell, along with district administration and board members, has spoken with community leaders and legislators. Grants are being considered. Pledges large and small are being solicited, and can be paid out over several years.

Bell called it a “50/50 toss up right now” whether fundraisers can commit to the water park by next month.

“It would be a big advantage to build the pool at the same time the building is built,” said Bell, explaining that adding an outdoor pool after would be problematic because of piping and other construction features.

Having a water park would prove advantageous for the YMCA.

“It helps our revenue tremendously, because it makes the Y different than for-profit fitness centers,” Bell said. “It makes the Y attractive for families, and we’re all about families.”

Ciurlik said it’s common for parents like her to buy summer memberships at Carowinds or the Baxter YMCA facility just for water park use. The district did not guarantee a plan with a water park when it presented the bond to residents.

“It would really be a missed opportunity (not to build it),” Ciurlik said.

The water park plan would include a 50-meter pool, which Bell sees hosting 600- to 900-swimmer meets. Those families will come to Lake Wylie and spend money in local shops and restaurants, generating hospitality tax and other dollars, he said.

“They bring people with them,” Bell said.

The water park complex would be similar to Baxter, but “much more grand” design. Baxter has six lanes at 25 meters in its outdoor pool. The one in Lake Wylie would be eight lanes and 50 meters.

Baxter offers another reminder why the next few weeks are critical for the Lake Wylie YMCA plan. The YMCA planned to come back in about five years to add a community room and walking track, which were nixed because of funding at the time. It’s been twice that long, and the funds still aren’t there.

“Now is the time to do it,” Bell said of the water park plan. “My fear is if we don’t build this in Lake Wylie now, it might not be built for a long time.”

The aquatic center is set to open in spring 2016. The district will put $14 million in approved bond money toward two indoor pools, racquetball courts, a gymnasium, weight room, aerobics room and locker rooms. Board approval could still add a second floor with walking track, classroom space and the 50-meter outdoor pool.