Plans call for aquatics center in Land O’ Lakes

Conceptual drawings have been done for the Christopher N. Chiles Aquatic Center in Land O’ Lakes that could become a magnet for swimming tournaments, and would provide a wide range of services for swimmers of all ages and abilities.

It would cost about $8 million for the facility, without a complete roof system, said Scott Sutek, executive director for the envisioned aquatic center.

Backers would prefer a building with an indoor pool, but that would cost between $12 million and $15 million, Sutek said.

This rendering shows the proposed Christopher N. Chiles Aquatics Center in Land O’ Lakes. (Courtesy of Scott Sutek)

Efforts began last July to develop a plan for the aquatics center, Sutek said.

The swimming facility at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, off Collier Parkway, is operating at maximum capacity, prompting the need for a larger facility, Sutek said.

Five teams train at the current pool, and the teams from Sunlake and Land O’ Lakes high schools compete there.

Lorin Macdonald, the facility’s head coach, said the new center ideally would have eight 50-meter lanes that can be transferred over to 20 to 22 short-course lanes.

The center would be able to accommodate long- and short-course competitions, and would give Olympic hopefuls a good place to train, Macdonald said.

The facility also would be able to accommodate hundreds of additional swimmers, Sutek said.

It also would be able to offer water aerobics, synchronized swimming, scuba lessons and training programs for lifeguards, law enforcement officers and public safety, military and CPR.

Practitioners could write prescriptions for aquatic therapy, Sutek said, because the center would have an aquatics therapy room, with a therapy pool.

The new facility also would make it possible to attract competitions, Sutek said.

“We’ve already gotten interest in having events here – local, state and semi-regional events.

“We have the capacity to hold up to the Pro Series events. So, we’ll have local high school and local club swim events that host anywhere from 300 to 1,200 swimmers,” Sutek said.

Local teams currently travel to meets in Largo, South Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Fort Myers, Orlando and Stuart, Macdonald said.

Plans call for building the facility on land donated by Academy at the Lakes, an independent private school.

Academy at the Lakes operates two campuses on Collier Parkway in Land O’ Lakes, but plans to expand to a third location, off Twenty Mile Level Road, off State Road 54. The aquatics center would become part of that campus, on land the school purchased from the MacManus family. The high school from Academy at the Lakes will be using the new facility.

Promoters are ready to get started on pursuing the swimming complex, as soon as they raise the necessary funds, said Sutek, who is serving as the center’s executive director on a strictly volunteer basis.

“When we’re at 50 percent (funding), we’ll go through with the design, and start talking about construction budgets and times, so that we’re ahead of the ballgame when 100 percent costs come in,” Sutek said.

“With this facility, the public will have more use of the pool, all of the time,” Sutek said.

The facility also would create some job opportunities for lifeguards, coaches and operations staff, Sutek said.

The aquatics center will be a nonprofit operation, Sutek said.

“We will focus on a minimum of two charitable organizations right now. One is the Make-A-Splash. The other is the Special Olympics.

Make-A-Splash is part of USA Swimming Foundation.

The aquatics center would like to partner with them, to remove the economic barrier that sometimes prevents children from learning how to swim, Macdonald said.

“A lot of the kids who end up being drowning victims, end up being drowning victims because they come from families who can’t afford swim lessons. It’s important to us that we start getting the entire community involved in swim lessons, so that everybody can swim and help reduce that drowning rate,” she said. “We would also give scholarships to kids to participate on our swim teams and to do team travel,” she added.

Macdonald sees a larger facility as a way to reach more people in the community.

“We want to make sure they have someplace safe where they can come and swim, somewhere where they have programs that are geared toward making sure the community is water safe,” she said.

The new facility also would make it possible to attract world-class competitions, Sutek said.

Swim coach Robin Hilgenberg is a Special Olympics swimming coach.

“We want to be able to train more Special Olympics kids of all ages, instead of the handful we have,” Sutek said. “We would love to host a Special Olympics swim meet, of large magnitude, here in this area.”

Organizers have shared their plans to the Pasco Economic Development Council and received support, Sutek said. A discussion with Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore also was positive, he added.

Next, proponents will be making the rounds to the county’s municipalities and local civic organizations to talk about their vision.

Published May 9, 2018

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