HCISD pledges $5M for swimming complex

A $5 million pledge from Hays CISD toward construction of a natatorium owned and operated by the YMCA of Austin is part of a proposed agreement that could grant the district first access to the facility.

Per the agreement, which was up for discussion at Monday’s board of trustees workshop, Hays CISD would have a 30-year lease on a 25-yard, 10-lane covered natatorium, or swimming complex. Trustees could take action on the agreement at the June 26 meeting.

James Finck, president of the YMCA of Austin, said Monday the natatorium will be located at the YMCA’s proposed 85-acre Camp Cypress project, which will be located along Old San Antonio Road in Buda.

The camp, which has a projected total price tag of $20 to $22 million, would be a “world class camp environment” and is proposed to have 250 cabins, a 450-seat amphitheater, more than five miles of hiking trails and two 600-foot zip lines, Finck said.

Finck said the camp is “all about the kids” and the YMCA is building it to help with critical social issues facing the community.

“It’s not just for Hays CISD,” Finck said. “We’re building the new model of an urban camp for kids to get out in nature and discover and learn.”

At the front of the camp property would be Hays CISD’s $33.9 million Elementary School 14, which was approved by district voters as part of Proposition 1 of the May 2017 bond. The campus would replace the Buda Elementary lower campus, located along FM 967.

“There will be no other swimming pool that I know of in the country for a high school that will be surrounded by this type of environment,” Finck said. “You will be without a doubt, be the envy of other high schools that want to compete.”

The natatorium, which is covered, would house the district’s two current varsity high school swimming teams. The facility would have lockers for up to 50 students for all Hays CISD high schools, and would have the flexibility for informal water polo matches or scrimmages. Hays CISD would be able to operate concession stands and collect revenue from it.

Finck said the YMCA would be responsible for operations costs, which is projected to be $3 to $4 million over the 30-year lifespan of the pool. The YMCA projects the pool opening by August 2018.

Lance Clary, Hays High varsity swimming coach, said he was excited at the opportunity to provide more space for his athletes. He also believed the facility could expand participation in high school swimming at Lehman and Hays.

Clary said the swim team is an exclusive program as there isn’t enough space for all students who try out to participate. The Hays and Lehman swim teams have practiced at the Hays Communities YMCA for a decade, but each team is only allow two lanes.

“Given 10 lanes over two lanes, we could double, triple or even quadruple our program, for Hays and Lehman,” Clary said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to move forward with this program, and the pros outweigh the cons.”

When asked about the location, Clary felt comfortable it would work “just as well, if not better” than the current practice facility for all Hays CISD schools, especially for Lehman High swimmers.

The facility could also be a place where the YMCA can continue its Project Safe program, which teaches first graders how to swim for free.

Finck said the YMCA currently conducts its Project Safe program by busing students to the Hays Communities branch on FM 967.

With the size of the proposed pool at the natatorium, Finck said they could “teach every kid in the district how to swim.” The covered aspect of the natatorium would allow the YMCA to conduct the program before the summer months.

Board member Vanessa Petrea was concerned about the presentation, citing she had never heard of the $5 million expenditure regarding the natatorium. Other concerns extended to community engagement for a natatorium, and the environmental impact. She added there are “nice” facilities at the Buda YMCA and a facility at Plum Creek.

She also believed the district could spend the $5 million elsewhere.

“For that amount of money, we could buy iPads for every single student from 6th through 12th grade,” Petrea said. “Academics, to me, are the most important and we have some significant deficiencies in our academics.”

Board trustee Holly Raymond supported the natatorium as it could expand the swim team, but also could offer the chance for the district’s 1,400 first graders to swim, which is “lifesaving.”

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