Renovated pool facility provides community a safe place to learn to swim
Last summer, the U.S. swim team blew the competition out of the water at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning 33 total medals, 16 of them gold. Australia came in second with a total medal count of just 10. Team USA has dominated the Olympic pool for decades, and currently owns more than a third of all Olympic swimming medals ever awarded.
So how is it drowning remains the second leading cause of death for children 14 years and younger, and the fifth leading cause for all ages in the U.S.?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings, non-boating related, annually in the United States from 2005 to 2014 – that’s approximately 10 per day.
While several factors influence drowning risk, inability to swim consistently tops the list. According to Water Safety USA, participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88 percent; however, many people are unable to learn because they lack access to swimming lessons or a facility to provide lessons.
Local leaders and residents of Wilcox County, Alabama decided to overcome this obstacle in their community.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allocated $4.9 million to support projects that would protect public safety and health, improve water and wastewater infrastructure and create expanded economic opportunities in rural Alabama. The Wilcox County Board of Education was awarded a $683,500 community facilities loan and a $50,000 community facilities grant to renovate the Wilcox Central High School natatorium, providing children and adults from the community a place to learn how to swim.
“We are extremely excited about the natatorium project,” Wilcox County Schools Superintendent Andre Saulsberry said. “We have a chance to provide swimming lessons for rural students and citizens throughout Wilcox County, whereas their only alternatives have been unsafe ponds and creeks where many of them attempt to learn to swim.”
GMC served as the architect and Johns and Kirksey, Inc., was the general contractor for the pool facility renovation, which began in July of 2016. In addition to renovating and recoating the existing pool, the project entailed new pool equipment and boilers, a new roof, installation of roll-up ventilation doors and renovation of the adjacent locker rooms, corridor, office and storage space. A handicap-accessible restroom and a chairlift into the pool were also added, making it accessible for elderly or handicap users.
Hundreds from the community came out to celebrate the re-opening of the natatorium on March 8, 2017, with swim lessons beginning shortly thereafter. Lessons are also being offered throughout the summer for ages ranging from 6 to 70-plus, with senior citizens’ classes in the early morning, children and students in the late morning and afternoon and adults in the evening.
According to Dr. Saulsberry, the new facility will also enable them to host swim competitions at Wilcox Central High School. “All of these opportunities will hopefully lead to better physical fitness for all.”