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Sam Michael’s Park is under consideration to become the site of the county’s new aquatic center.

CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission agreed to dip its toes into the possibility of building a multimillion-dollar pool complex at Sam Michaels Park.

Last Thursday, the commission unanimously agreed to contribute up to $12,500 to determine the cost to construct a year-round public swimming center. A feasibility study should cost no more than $50,000, according to county project engineers.

The proposed indoor and outdoor swimming facility would be added beside or near the county’s community recreation center in Shenandoah Junction.

Commissioner Steve Stolipher said a good model for what the county might build would be a pool complex at Franklin Park in Purcellville, Virginia. That 203-acre park’s complex has two pools. One is a large competition pool with divided swimming lanes. The other is a family area with water slides and a shallow splash area ideal for children.

State Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, recently jump-started the drive to obtain the feasibility funding for a county-owned and -operated facility. After state funding for the study is secured, she said the public will have a chance to share their ideas on what amenities they wanted for the facility.

Rucker said many residents have said they want a four-seasons swimming facility added to the county’s portfolio of parks and recreation amenities.

“Constituents keep bringing it up—over and over and over again consistently,” Rucker said.

The county residents who keep asking for a community hole include people of various ages with different recreation interests, Rucker said. Those people are high schoolers on swim teams. They are young single adults looking for an after-work unwinding place and parents with a package of wound-up children. And they retirees who want to exercise surrounded by the safety of buoyant water, she said.

Jefferson’s high school swim teams have to travel to facilities outside the county to practice and compete, she said.

“Basically, they say, ‘Why do we not have a community pool?’” she said. “‘Why do we not have someplace where we can take our young children? Why is it that I have to go to Virginia, I have to go to Maryland to get these types of things here?’”

Rucker said the need for a county pool was underscored when Shepherd University’s pool closed to the public to limit gatherings during the pandemic. “Folks were very, very unhappy,” she said, noting that the university’s pool is open to students but still limiting access to the public.

Meanwhile, Rucker said, the limited capacity of Charles Town’s municipal pool at Jefferson Memorial Park—the county’s only public pool—inadequately serves all of the county. Charles Town’s mayor, Bob Trainor, and city manager, Daryl Hennessy, agreed that a larger county swimming complex wouldn’t interfere with the city’s neighborhood pool program.  

In contrast with Jefferson County, Rucker pointed out that Kanawha County has three public pools. Berkeley County has a community pool, but it’s a summer seasonal facility only.

“It is extraordinary to me that the two fastest-growing counties in the state don’t have a single year-round pool facility for the public,” she said.

Building a community pool will be an economic and infrastructure investment for Jefferson County, Rucker said. Many people looking to move to the county from Maryland or Virginia will expect such a facility, she said.

Rucker said she will submit an application soon for a Local Economic Development Assistance Grant. The grant program has assisted infrastructure and economic development projects across the state costing $10,000 to about $1 million. She said she’ll submit the grant request directly to Senator Craig Blair, R-Berkeley County, who serves as state Senate president.

Rucker said the legislature has already set funds aside for such projects. “If I do my job well [as state Senator], it should be approved,” she said.

“It is absolutely something that will draw people here,” she added of the proposed pool complex. “It meets every [economic development] criteria.”

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