East, west vie for aquatic center complex

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The thorniest issue surrounding the city’s proposed aquatic complex centers on location, with both east and west Tupelo vying for the $11.3 million facility and its potential draw.
City Council members eventually must pick a site for the new pool – which will replace the aging one on Joyner Avenue – but a clear consensus hasn’t yet emerged. Until it does, some members are ready to fight for their turf.
“Every model, indicator, questionnaire and recommendation was in support of Veteran’s Park as the aquatics facility location,” said Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis, who represents east Tupelo where Veteran’s Park is located. “To continue looking for alternatives to the obvious and qualified in this situation is no longer acceptable.”
Veteran’s Park, south of the ball field, was one of two locations that had emerged as strong candidates during a feasibility study done earlier this year. The other was at the volleyball courts in Ballard Park on the west side of town.
But while Veteran’s ranked slightly higher than Ballard in the study, consultants verbally had recommended Ballard as their top choice because of its proximity to more households and Tupelo High School.
Some council members, though, worry that Ballard Park might burst at the seams with another major draw like a pool. It already boasts a well-used baseball and soccer complex, and is among the city’s top destinations for outdoor concerts, picnics and festivals.
In other words, the park stays packed without adding a 45,000-square-foot swimming facility.
“Personally, if I had to vote today, it’d be a tough vote because the problem with Ballard is congestion,” said council President Fred Pitts.
Another problem with Ballard is that the city doesn’t own it; the Tupelo Airport Authority does. TAA currently leases the land to the city for $100,000 a year. It’s a sum the city had been allocating to the airport for years to help it meet budget, but recently the city received use of the land in exchange.
The two entities signed a 20-year agreement about four years ago, said Tupelo Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis.
Veteran’s Park is city property, and it offers ample space for a sprawling pool complex. But the addition of a large structure like that could mar its tranquil atmosphere.
“I’m not sure if a big commercial pool on that property fits,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell. “It takes away from the honor and reverence of that park, which is supposed to be in memory of veterans.”
Newell said he’d like to see the facility in south Tupelo, which he represents. But he termed that possibility a long shot.
Other possible locations include the open field south of the Ballard Park stage off Glasgow Lane, and the site now occupied by the Trace Inn and Country Hearth amp& Suites, which the city soon will demolish. Municipal leaders are trying to acquire the property where those buildings now sit, but it could take months before that happens – if it ever does.
With the Trace Inn location, the city also would need to purchase adjacent property fronting West Main Street, and “we’d have to do soil tests, core sampling to make sure it’s a suitable site,” said Lewis, who is heading up the aquatic effort.
He said he’d be happy with any location the council picks, so long as it picks one.
Plans call for a sprawling complex with one Olympic-size pool and one smaller pool for fitness or instruction classes. It also calls for spectator seating, locker rooms, rest rooms, offices, a multipurpose room, kitchen, lobby and an outdoor area for sunbathing and a splash pad.
Once the council gives the go-ahead, it will take about six months to prepare the bids. Construction will take about 14 months.
“The biggest issue is going to be east Tupelo, west Tupelo, and if it gets down to that kind of argument we could possibly lose the pool,” Lewis said. “From my standpoint, we’re supportive of either site – the department, architects and aquatics members.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.