Editorial: North Charleston’s new aquatics center promises great ripple effects | Editorials

Fibo Quantum

One of North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey’s longtime goals has been to make his city a great place to live, work and play, and perhaps his greatest challenge has been the third objective.

Before North Charleston incorporated in 1972, the area’s athletics already were being run by the Cooper River Parks and Playground Commission. A recreation program was not a top priority in the early years, and the city’s relationship with the commission got off to a rocky start that devolved into a legal dispute that reached the state’s top court. (The commission now taxes properties near but outside the city and contracts with the city to operate its parks.)

But that past is not as important as the present, and the opening of the new North Charleston Aquatic Center at 8610 Patriot Blvd. marks yet another major step forward for recreation, not only in the city but the region.

It’s hands-down the best public pool complex in our part of the state.

The 54,000-square-foot facility features a 10-lane competition pool with seats for 1,000 spectators, a warm-up pool, an outdoor patio and an access road to Fort Dorchester High for student traffic. Among the center’s laudable attributes is the city’s partnership with Dorchester School District 2, which contributed $7.5 million to build it. In return, the swimming programs at the district’s three high schools will use it for practice and meets, and younger students eventually will be taught to swim there. Such instruction is an important public health and safety step, seeing how children here grow up surrounded by water.

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The center’s opening this summer obviously would have made a much grander splash had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, which we are fighting in part by minimizing our visits to public places, such as swimming pools. Instead of a big party, city officials, District 2 representatives and the contracting team marked its completion Friday morning with a low-key, invitation-only and socially distanced ceremony.

The pool actually opened several days ago, but because of COVID-19, the city restricted users to lap and open swimming, the same as at its Danny Jones and Felix Pinckney pools. Access to swimming programs will expand post-pandemic. The daily charge for swimmers is $3, which will rise to $5 on Sept. 1, when monthly and annual passes go on sale; those outside the city pay the same rate since many Dorchester County taxpayers helped pay for it.

The competition-size pool can be divided in half, giving the public a space to swim even when school teams are using the pool. Only during a swim meet or other events will the pool be unavailable to the public. Now, more than 50 swimmers can use it at a time.

North Charleston Recreation Director Doyle Best says the city might make a pitch for the South Carolina High School League’s state championship later this year, though COVID-19 continues to cast a fog over fall athletic programs. In any case, he says, “We’re looking forward to hosting some really great meets in the future.”

That seems a certainty, and North Charleston’s recreational renaissance is driven not only to serve residents but to increase recreational tourism. Last fall, the city opened the $14 million North Charleston Athletic Center off Interstate 26 near Remount Road. It’s also expected to draw regional, state and even national competitions that in turn will draw visitors to the city. North Charleston’s baseball and softball fields at Wescott Park, completed in 2013, marked its first major step in this direction.

We congratulate the city on finding creative ways to spur its tourism while also, and even more importantly, giving its residents new and better options for play.