On Tuesday, March 14, the Wellington Village Council voted to move forward with building a brand-new Wellington Aquatics Complex at the back end of Village Park, near the park’s 120th Avenue South entrance.
The decision came one day after the council heard a nearly two-hour workshop presentation from design firm Ohlson Lavoie Corporation (OLC) on five possible sites for the new pool complex, with the majority of the council zeroing-in on the Village Park site as the best choice. The property is currently used as a Public Works Department storage area.
At the March 14 meeting, the council voted to award OLC a contract for architectural and engineering design of the new pool complex of $1.8 million. The entire project will cost an estimated $22.6 million over several years.
Vice Mayor Michael Drahos brought a trophy that he won in 1987 at a swimming event at the village’s current pool, then part of the old Wellington Club East.
“My trophy was brought here today to emphasize the point that 36 years ago, I swam in that same pool that we are talking tonight about replacing,” Drahos said. “Change is sometimes scary, but I think that in this instance, it is necessary. I am excited about the future and what this aquatics complex is going to bring. There’s going to be a whole generation of kids who are going to go to this new site and make new memories there.”
The new complex will have four different pools: a 50-meter competition pool, an 11-foot diving well, a multi-purpose/learn-to-swim pool and a recreational pool with a splash pad. Other amenities include the pool house, spectator seating, shade structures, cabanas, a picnic pavilion, pool equipment yard and plenty of parking.
The planned aquatics complex would only use about 60 percent of the land available at the 120th Avenue site, leaving room for additional field space, overflow parking and more. The only concern raised by the designers was that it is not as centrally located as the current pool site.
At the workshop, the council reviewed designs for four other possible sites. Two — an alternate site at Village Park closer to Pierson Road and a site at Wellington High School — were deemed too small to accommodate all the amenities that the village wants to offer, along with other concerns. The other two were two variations of keeping the pool complex at or near its current Wellington Town Center location. One would shut the current site and rebuild it at the same location, and the other builds a new facility on the lakefront, including the space that is the currently the Lake Wellington Professional Centre.
While rebuilding on the current footprint was the less-expensive option, Councilman John McGovern warned against being “penny wise and pound foolish.” He pointed out that the pool is only at its current location because it was originally attached to the country club that Wellington bought in the late 1990s and turned into the Wellington Community Center.
“We need to finish off this site and complete the change that has been long coming,” he said at the March 14 council meeting.
Councilman Michael Napoleone and Councilwoman Tanya Siskind agreed that the new pool complex should be at the 120th Avenue site.
“This belongs at Village Park,” Napoleone said. “It is the heart of our parks and rec program.”
“This is going to be an amazing facility,” Siskind added. “Not only that, but it’s also the safer layout. You’re not trying to squish anything in or give up something. It is going to be a state-of-the-art facility.”
Public comment at the meeting was also in favor of the 120th Avenue site.
Dolores Bocian, a resident and former president of the Mayfair at Wellington community, expressed concerns regarding putting a much larger aquatics complex right outside their community due to noise and traffic. Mayfair, a senior community, is located near the current pool facility.
“Mayfair at Wellington is very happy with the selection of the 120th Avenue site,” she said.
Diane Souder, current president of Mayfair, sent a letter also opposed to keeping the current site.
Resident Erik Bell, a member of the village’s masters swim team, uses the current pool regularly.
“I am gratified to learn that 120th Avenue seems to be the most favored site,” he said. “Having a facility be non-existent for two years is not a good option for either the masters team or the age group team. It would be a significant disruption.
Bell liked the plans for the new facility, adding that it appears to be comparable to the other top facilities in the state.
Jason Metz, a parent of two nationally ranked swimmers, echoed the comments made by Bell.
“I am happy to hear that 120th is the top runner. That is something that I came here to propose tonight,” he said. “The thought of having a pool down for so long is something that was terrifying for us as parents.”
A motion to award the bid for engineering and design for the 120th Avenue site to OLC carried 4-0 with Mayor Anne Gerwig recusing herself due to a conflict of interest with part of the engineering team on the project.
While she could not participate in the council meeting discussion on the bid award, Gerwig did take part in the previous day’s workshop session regarding the different site options. She was a dissenting voice on the 120th Avenue site, preferring the less-expensive option of keeping the pool on its current footprint. That option was estimated to cost $17.3 million, as opposed to $22.6 million.
“I think we should do the original site, scaled down from what we even have on this sheet,” she said. “I’m OK with us shutting it down. Lake Lytal is in operation, and that’s what we did before. It was shut down for 18 months the last time we rebuilt the pool in 2009. I get it would be inconvenient to everybody, but the price tag is just too much for me.”
In other business:
• The council heard an update from football star Jon Bostic and his team regarding the Wellington Sports Academy project. The council was impressed with the ongoing design work and was glad to hear that Bostic aims to have a groundbreaking this summer and be open by the summer of 2024.
• The council heard a favorable report from its independent auditor Grau & Associates for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2022.
• The council granted the necessary approvals for Lock Up Self Storage to build a high-end self-storage facility on the Iorizzo property off State Road 7 behind the existing Cheddar’s restaurant. The facility plans to add additional public amenities in order to be granted a bonus in its floor area ratio (FAR). The original wording would have allowed the developer to give the village money in lieu of the extra amenities, but the council was not in favor of that language and removed it with the consent of the developer, since they did not plan to use that option.
• The council completed the process of bringing Panther Run Elementary School into the Village of Wellington. After finalizing the annexation of the 20-acre site last month, the council assigned it a future land use map designation and zoning of “Community Facilities.”