Forty years ago next spring, my teammates and I won the 10 & Under Boys State Swimming Championship for the Bellefonte YMCA.
As much as I like reminiscing about that past accomplishment, I am more worried about future swimmers in Bellefonte.
Since 1971, the Kepler Swimming Pool has not only been the home of the Bellefonte summer swim team, but it has served as the summer recreational facility for tens of thousands of children throughout the region.
Unfortunately, like my teammates and myself, the facility has aged significantly.
The normal life expectancy for a swimming facility like Kepler, is 30 years. As an almost 43-year-old facility, the pool is well past it’s life expectancy and has not been updated to reflect more modern standards and public expectations.
The problems have become so daunting that, for the first time in more than 40 years, Bellefonte and the surrounding communities will be without an outdoor swimming pool next summer.
The question for all of us is, Will this be a one-year hiatus or a permanent situation?
Just as policymakers wrestled with how to build a community pool 40 years ago, our local policymakers must decide if it is worth saving.
The Nittany Valley Joint Recreation Authority has developed a plan to save Kepler Pool and add significant new features for the public to enjoy. Of course, like everything in the world today, this comes at a cost.
The cost of saving Kepler is about $2.4 million. This is a significant cost and cannot be achieved through normal local fundraising activities. The proposed recommendations by the Authority come with a cost to the taxpayer and is being reviewed and considered by the borough and townships.
Council and supervisors in each municipality would need to approve the fee and, for it to work, all four municipalities would have to agree. Bellefonte Borough has already approved the measure.
As a policymaker myself, I know that no one likes to assess fees on the general public. Recently, we debated long and hard in Harrisburg over a new transportation infrastructure bill for Pennsylvania. We had to weigh the need versus the cost and, in the end, the need was determined to be so great that the bill was passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan fashion.
Now our local officials need to weigh the need versus the cost of the Kepler Pool project.
I have lived in the Bellefonte community all my life and, although I have probably not been in Kepler Pool in more than 25 years, I cannot imagine not having a community pool. A community pool is an asset for the entire region and adds significantly to the quality of life.
The new community investment would allow Kepler to provide equal opportunities for educational, social and recreational programs, as well as new proposed features such as water slides, an aquatic climbing wall, a splash pad, new bathhouses and much more.
Kepler would become a modern, ADA-accessible pool appealing to the entire public. To see the value of public accessibility, look no further than the nearly 200 children who use the pool five days a week through the local YMCA and Wee Wisdom’s summer camp programs.
I believe the need is there for the community, but what will this new investment cost us? As I stated previously, the Authority has recommended an annual fee on all households in the four municipalities. As a homeowner in Benner Township, I am supportive of paying an annual fee to rebuild and maintain a modern and fully accessible community treasure.
Each generation has the responsibility to maintain and build upon community benefits that prior generations have created. Forty-three years ago, policymakers had the courage and foresight to construct a facility that was valuable to the community and enjoyed by families for decades.
I ask our local officials in Benner, Spring and Walker townships to consider the need versus cost and do the same as past policymakers in constructing a facility that will be enjoyable to families for decades to come.
I encourage everyone in the region to contact their municipalities to lend your support. If we do not act now by showing support, we risk losing a community asset that would be very difficult to replace.
Forty years ago, my teammates and I lived out a dream, thanks in part Kepler Pool. Let’s make sure children in the future have the same opportunity to live out their dreams.