Wellington Council Approves $28 Million For New Aquatics Complex

Amid waves of rising costs, Wellington is putting on a swimming cap — sticking with a spending limit of $28 million with a key builder on a new aquatics complex.

But much of the action at a Wellington Village Council meeting Tuesday, March 12 concerned how to get the most bang for the buck for the money associated with the proposed new home for the Wellington Aquatics Complex at Village Park near its 120th Avenue South entrance.

A major debating point about the recreational half of the complex was whether to emphasize more traditional attractions, like water slides, or grant a contract to a firm that offers what it calls “NinjaCross” courses. These are designed so children at least 48 inches tall and adults can maneuver above and under the water and negotiate obstacles.

In the last eight years, “this is potentially the most exciting project we’ve done,” Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said of the overall project. At the same time, he added, “We really pushed the cost down from where it had ballooned to.”

Mayor Anne Gerwig questioned whether younger children or even some older folks had the upper body strength to move above the pool on ropes, bars or rings for the NinjaCross courses. Staff members said that part would be designed for roughly ages seven and above, and it would have a beginner lane and an advanced lane.

A walk-in, entry portion of the recreational pool would be designed for toddlers and children up to seven, and would feature smaller slides, a dump bucket and a castle area where younger children and other family members could hang out.

The next, connected circular portion of the recreational pool would offer basketball hoops and other features at intermediate depth, flowing into the rectangular base at the bottom that would host lap swimming, lessons and the NinjaCross lanes.

The NinjaCross lanes could feature music and a scoreboard to show the times of competitors, staff members explained.

“My concern is it’s going to be very expensive to maintain and very expensive to build,” Gerwig said. “I want to make sure we can afford to do this.”

In the end, the council voted 5-0 to push ahead with the latest plan.

Specifically, the council voted for a ceiling of $27,964,904 for builder Wharton-Smith Inc. at the new complex. It would replace the current aquatics center near the Wellington Community Center on Forest Hill Blvd., which will continue to operate in the meantime.

The council also agreed to pay for architectural services from Ohlson Lavoie Corp. in the amount of $434,809.

After back-and-forth discussion, the board agreed to pay for a sole source contract to WJN LLC for the purchase and installation of the NinjaCross System for $935,000.

Village leaders also approved steps that will make it possible to pay for the project with a combination of general revenue and the village’s share of the countywide sales surtax.

It all comes after estimated costs for the aquatics project rose from $22.5 million two years ago to as much as $42 million last year, fueled by higher expenses for building materials, among other factors.

Council debates continued over the aesthetics of the new facility, for example concerning preliminary mock-ups that seemed to show plenty of orange and blue that were too reminiscent of University of Florida colors for fans of Florida State University.

One possible tweak has been metal panels with a wood look in parts of the entrance façade, designed to offer a warmer feel.

Councilman Michael Drahos said he wants more touches that take the edge off an institutional vibe, perhaps also gussying up metal support structures within swim areas. Drahos said he wants “something that makes it look less industrial.”

The site features 270 paved parking spots and grass overflow parking for another 150.

A 64-meter, or about 210-foot, competitive pool features a moveable bulkhead that accommodates races of different lengths, noted Sam Elsheikh, senior principal for Ohlson Lavoie Corp. That allows 10 lanes for some races going longer lengths, and up to 28 cross lanes for shorter events.

The idea is to allow competition in multiple events, from swimming to water polo, diving and synchronized swimming.

In public comments, resident Jennifer Metz said, “I encourage you all to build a new pool with the future in mind,” including things like more lanes and better timing equipment on the competitive side.