By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The $12 million Tupelo Aquatic Center’s grand opening, originally scheduled for next week, has moved to December, giving workers extra time to complete details for the city’s newest public facility.
Workers this week continued installing bleachers and panels of large scoreboards and cleaning windows at the center’s entrance. From deciding where vending machines will go to giving tours and attending planning meetings, Aquatic Center director Amy Kennedy prepares for the tweaked grand-opening date of Dec. 14.
Within two weeks Southaven-based Murphy and Sons construction company will turn the keys over to the city of Tupelo, ending all major work at the facility. Kennedy said the change of date for the grand opening involved having wiggle room for completing the project, which has a contractual ending date of later this month.
But the grand-opening date also changed to ensure special guests – one or two Olympian swimmers.
“We wanted to assure that we have the Olympic swimmers there,” Kennedy said.
No specifics are public yet about which Olympians will attend the event, but Kennedy said they’ll likely hold question and answer sessions during the day that give the public an opportunity to learn firsthand about classes and other offerings at the swimming facility.
The center has two pools – one Olympic-sized with 20 lanes and a smaller, heated pool with four lanes – and room for 900 spectators and 600 athletes. While both pools are filled with water, no one has taken a dip in either one.
“No one has tested the water yet, except for a toe,” Kennedy said.
While preparations continue for the center to open, city leaders bank on it as a long-term investment in quality of life for city residents and a tourism generator. It has a $677,140 total budget this fiscal year, an amount including personnel, supplies, capital expenditures and other services.
It will replace the smaller pool at Rob Leake City Park.
With few comparable swimming facilities in the state, Tupelo Parks and Recreation and Convention and Visitors Bureau leaders believe it will bring a lot of swimmers and their families to Tupelo, spending money at local hotels, restaurants and shops in the process.
Currently, seven swim meets are booked at the facility through August, including two state swim meets in February and July.
On Tuesday, the Tupelo hotel association met at the facility to get tours of where many future guests will spend much of their time.
“It’ll be another tool for us to market this area,” said Hilton Garden Inn director of sales Shari Neely. “I’m for whatever will help us grow and bring more visitors.”
The center will also be open to the public for recreational use.