Construction will soon begin on Meridian’s first indoor aquatic center.

After months of fundraising, officials plan to break ground on the South Meridian YMCA aquatic center on Aug. 15. The roughly 20,400-square-foot facility will have a children’s pool, therapy pool with lazy river, six-lane lap pool, therapy spa, outdoor splash pad and a slide that starts insides and loops outside the building. 

The aquatic center will help fill a need for more swimming pools in the area where high school swim teams and local recreation leagues can practice. Duro said Meridian is one of the biggest communities in the country that doesn’t have an indoor aquatic center.

The South Meridian YMCA opened in May 2018 with a youth development center, fitness areas, a large indoor family play structure, gathering space, gyms and classrooms. Staff anticipate completing the aquatic center as an addition to the South Meridian YMCA by April 2021. Before then, staff will need to fill a fundraising gap of about $1.1 million.

The aquatic center is estimated to cost $14 million — $12.9 million of which staff had raised as of Wednesday. The YMCA already exceeded their initial goal of $10 million for the project, but since those estimates, the size of the aquatic center has increased and construction costs have gone up, Duro said.

“If we built it when we wanted to, $10 million would have gone a lot farther,” Duro said, referring to the YMCA’s original plan to open the center with the South Meridian YMCA.

In order to make space for pool’s locker rooms, staff are moving the existing weight room to the east side of the building. Next to it, staff plan to add an inclusive activities space for parents with children who have cognitive challenges, like Asperger’s syndrome or autism, Duro said. That space added $1.5 million onto the project’s cost. In total, all three additions will significantly add to the YMCA’s size, increasing the 60,000-square-foot building by roughly 30,000 square feet.

In 2016, the Western Ada Recreation District ran a $20 million bond that would have paid for the aquatic center. The bond failed, getting approval of 51% of voters — bonds in Idaho must have at least 66.7% of the vote to be approved.

The bond would have also paid for an aquatic center in north Meridian. The YMCA planned to fundraise for and build a YMCA location around the north Meridian aquatic center after it was built, the Meridian Press previously reported. Staff still plan to fundraise and build the north Meridian YMCA and its aquatic center, but Duro said he doesn’t have a timeline for when that will happen.

Duro said he would “love nothing more” than to build the north Meridian YMCA, but “we are dependent on private fundraising.”

“It’s not like we’re building these places to make money,” he said.

About one in four participants in YMCA programs receives some kind of financial assistance, Duro said. Staff plan to name the South Meridian YMCA aquatic center after a significant donor, who they would not disclose on Wednesday.

The aquatic center hasn’t received approval from the city of Meridian yet. Duro said YMCA staff are in conversations with city staff now and plan to have the necessary approvals by the groundbreaking next month.

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SWIMMING IN MERIDIAN

The aquatic center will be the second community swimming pool in Meridian. The lack of pool space in Meridian is “a huge problem,” said Rachelle Bird, president of the Meridian Killer Whales, a summer youth swimming recreation league that practices at the Meridian Swimming Pool.

Every year, the league turns away between 50 and 90 swimmers because there isn’t enough pool space for more than the team’s 151 swimmers to practice in Meridian.

“We only have two hours of time in the pool and there are only six lanes,” Bird said. “We can’t go any higher than 151 because there isn’t space for those bodies in the pool.”

Because space is limited, Bird holds tryouts every year for the 151 slots on the team and turns away the rest, which she said is “the worst part of the job.” A lot of swimmers have stopped trying out and swim in Nampa or Boise because they know how hard it is to get on the Meridian team, she said.

Bird said she doesn’t think it would be hard to create another youth recreational league if there was more pool space.

“We definitely have the swimmers,” she said.

Jason Warr, activities director for the West Ada School District, said the south Meridian aquatic center would help meet the needs of the district’s varsity and junior varsity teams.

The 2017-2018 school year was the first year swimming was included as a sanctioned sport by the Idaho High School Activities Association. Before that, high school swimming was a club sport.

Since becoming a sanctioned sport, swimming has continued to grow in West Ada and across the state. In the 2017-18 school year there were 1,156 total high school students participating in varsity or junior varsity swimming in Idaho, according to Julie Hammons, assistant director of the Idaho High School Activities Association. Last school year, there were 1,317.

Warr said West Ada’s numbers are also growing. All five high schools in the district have a swim team with at least 40 students. Warr said Eagle and Rocky Mountain high schools exceed that with around 80 and 60 participants.

With the limited pool space in the Treasure Valley, Warr said it’s hard to get West Ada swim teams into local pools for swimming practice and meets. Several teams practice at the outdoor Meridian Swimming Pool until the season ends in October.

“(Swimming) is a lifelong sport, it’s a growing sport,” Bird said. “… Another pool will be great.”

Patty Bowen is the Meridian Press reporter. You can reach her at pbowen@idahopress.com or follow her on Twitter @pattybowenMP.

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