SCHENECTADY — Organizers are gradually gathering commitments for the $35 million they’ll need to build a swimming complex at Mohawk Harbor.
Earlier this month, county leaders said they’d recommend that the county Legislature allocate $5 million in federal stimulus money to support the project, provided organizers can secure commitments for $25 million.
That has been a frequent caveat, said Kara Haraden, president of the Capital Region Aquatic Center: They’ve secured commitments for more than two-thirds of the estimated construction cost, but many of the individual donations require that they first secure a lot of money elsewhere.
“We are obviously very excited to see the momentum back where it was before the pandemic hit,” Haraden said Wednesday. “Things were really taking off and then the pandemic hit.”
The proposal calls for an 80,000-square-foot teaching, therapeutic and competition complex with an Olympic-size pool; a diving well with platform and springboard; and two smaller pools with water in the mid- to upper 80-degree range for therapy and instruction.
There would be deck space and locker room facilities for at least 600 athletes and seating for 1,200 spectators.
It is envisioned as a source of economic benefit, because visiting athletes and/or their families would need meals and hotel rooms, and as a community resource, because it would be open for up to 15 hours a day and available for public use when a competition was not underway.
The proposal was first floated in Malta eight years ago and later moved to the Schenectady waterfront.
It has secured public shows of support, including from the City Council earlier this month, but has been blanked on key grants worth millions from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative and Regional Economic Development Council.
The Aquatic Center hasn’t given up hope for a major state grant but is working to develop other sources, too. The COVID crisis made in-person fundraisers impossible and created other demands for the dollars that might have been donated for the project.
Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said the $5 million the county may provide the project would come from the $30 million in federal aid earmarked for the county under the American Rescue Plan.
The move to support the project was in recognition of the community benefit and economic impact the plan would have, but it’s only a request for consideration from the county Legislature, which must endorse the allocation.
Haraden said the facility is based on one in North Carolina that is always busy.
“We modeled after the Greensboro Aquatic Center. What’s nice is we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said.
Studies performed on both the Malta and Schenectady locations found significant demand for an aquatic center in both places, Haraden said.
Mohawk Harbor has the additional benefit of sitting along a CDTA bus line near a diverse and often under-served community, she added. It is designed for anyone from a few months to 90-plus years old with everything from synchronized swimming to aquarobics to SCUBA training to special-needs water instruction — drowning is a leading cause of death for people with autism.
“We have swim clubs, a group that wants to start a water polo club,” Haraden said. “Everyone wants to rent pool time.”
Her interest in a swimming competition facility stems from her own family’s long-running involvement in swimming. The water-safety aspect of the Aquatic Center speaks directly to the near drowning of her son Jesse in their own backyard pool. After he recovered, Haradan was faced with the imperative to either fill in the pool or teach all five kids to swim.
“They all were enrolled immediately in swim lessons,” she said. “Knowing we were one of the lucky ones, we felt we should have something like that here.”