"I have no doubt the impact of this facility will be felt by many, many people for years to come," said Mayor Jack Reed Jr., before he and about a dozen others shoveled into a mound of dirt.
Construction starts immediately and will last about 14 months with a grand opening of the nearly 44,000-square-foot facility tentatively planned for late 2013.
The city will pay for the project largely with bond money but some will come from the Tupelo Convention amp& Visitors Bureau. Southaven-based Murphy amp& Sons will do the construction.
"It's been a long time coming," said Ward 5 City Councilman Jonny Davis, in whose ward the facility is located.
Davis said he had cited the aquatic center as one of his top three priorities upon entering office in 2009 and was pleased to see it come to fruition. He credited the efforts of several people, including Tupelo Aquatic Club President Ann Blair Huffman, for making it happen.
Huffman said she'd been pushing for an indoor pool since moving to Tupelo in 1994 but acknowledged that many others before her had shared the dream.
"I wouldn't give up," she said, recalling the numerous times she had discussed the topic with city officials.
A majority of the City Council voted to approve the aquatic center project through a series of votes that included authorizing a feasibility study to awarding the construction contract.
Many council members attended the ceremony, as did Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis, JBHM Architect employees, and dozens of swimmers from Shockwave Aquatics. Among them was John Gaston, who said the facility will accommodate everybody.
"It's not a Shockwave club-only pool," he said. "It's really a citywide pool."
The sprawling complex will house one Olympic-size pool and one smaller pool for fitness or instruction classes. It also will have spectator seating, locker rooms, restrooms, offices, a multipurpose room, kitchen, lobby and an outdoor area for sunbathing.
It will serve both casual and competitive swimmers and have the capacity to host state, regional and national meets.