By JB Clark
TUPELO – Olympic gold medalist swimmer Peter Vanderkaay told Tupelo swimmers and residents an indoor swimming facility in the Detroit suburbs where he grew up sparked his interest in swimming.
“The time I started to take swimming seriously coincided with the time my community built a similar facility at the university in town,” he said to the crowd at the Tupelo Aquatic Center’s grand opening Saturday morning.
“I really believe the impact of that facility helped me become the swimmer I am. I’m not sure I could have done it without that community support.”
The new $12 million facility was opened to the public with a ribbon cutting presentation.
Former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he’s proud to see the building open after lots of hard work from the community.
“As mayor, I did support this and am as proud as I could be of this project but in Tupelo city government, the mayor proposes and the council disposes,” he said. “More important than my term was the members of the City Council in the last term who had the political courage to stand up and decide this was worth investing in for our city.”
Mayor Jason Shelton thanked the council as well, saying the building is a monument to the people of Tupelo.
“We talk a lot about the ‘Tupelo spirit’ and I think this is a testament to that spirit here,” he said. “I can’t take much credit for this building but I can tell you I’m committed to making sure it’s a success and everything it can be, so it helps not just our citizens, but our economy.”
After the ribbon cutting, the Tupelo Christian Preparatory School’s swim team practiced in one pool while the Tupelo Fire Department’s dive team trained in the deep end of another pool.
“You can’t just wish a great community, you’ve got to build a great community,” said Reed. “You have to invest. We can’t count on Washington or New York or Jackson to do for Tupelo what Tupelo needs to do for ourselves and this is an example of us being willing to stand up and say, ‘We’re the healthiest city in Mississippi.’ This will help us be one of the highest quality of life and healthiest cities in the South. It will help people live here, want to stay here and visit here.”
The building will be open to public swimming from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. Sundays for the remainder of December and then begin the new daily activity schedule Jan. 2.
In January, daily lap swimming will begin Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.; Wednesdays from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.; Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
“With facilities like this, you never know if the next Olympic gold medalist might come out of your community and that’s something you can be really proud of,” Vanderkaay said.