Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Swim Strong with Schools: Partnering with Public Schools to Create Water Attractions Can Help Alleviate Budget Issues While Strengthening Commitment to Community

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Swim Strong with Schools: Partnering with Public Schools to Create Water Attractions Can Help Alleviate Budget Issues While Strengthening Commitment to Community

Article excerpt

As most public school districts across the nation are struggling with tighter budgets, competing against each other to attract and retain students and looking for ways to generate revenue, one school district in Michigan has decided to invest money in the community as one way to offset its budget shortfall.

Huron Valley Schools (HVS) in Highland, Mich., has found a unique way to maximize the return on investment from one of its best and most underused assets--the school district's swimming pools.

"As our community continues to grow and budgets continue to shrink, there is more of a demand on the school districts to not only provide academic excellence, but to also partner with the community to improve the residents' quality of life," says Dr. Robert O'Brien, superintendent, Huron Valley Schools.

That demand on HVS was even greater since the communities do not have city-operated parks and recreation departments to fulfill the resident's needs.

"The district essentially operates as the parks and recreation department for these communities," says Paul De-Angelos, director of communication, Huron Valley School District. "In this capacity; it was up to us to create recreational environments that would benefit our students and the community."

Typically, a high school swimming pool is only open to the students during the competitive swimming season. This leaves the pool dormant for nearly nine months out of the year.

"It is a tremendous asset to just have lying there and only used by such a small part of the population," O'Brien says. So, HVS decided to turn the pools into family destinations that could be used by the entire community, every day of the week, throughout the entire year. In the summer of 2004, Milford High School in Highland, Mich., and Lakeland High School in White Lake, Mich., opened their new indoor pools and fitness centers to the public.

But these aren't your ordinary high school swimming pools. While each still has a competitive pool, these 98,500-square-foot facilities also feature fitness and weight rooms, field houses, indoor tracks and eye-popping water attractions that are rarely seen inside high school campuses.

Visitors of Milford's Pool and Fitness Center are captivated by a zoo-themed water attraction. A towering 16-foot, 2,000-pound gorilla with a 100-foot long snake slide and an interactive fort with its own life-sized elephant and rhinoceros that blast water, keep families entertained for hours.

Guests at the Lakeland Pool and Fitness Center can explore outer space by crawling around a two-story comet water attraction and water-blasting Martian guarding a spaceship.

These uniquely themed swimming centers were designed to not only increase revenue for the school district, but meet the needs of the growing community and provide a safe place for the whole population to laugh, explore and get active together.

Developing Community-Based Recreation

Huron Valley Schools is composed of 18 schools and about 11,000 students from Commerce, Highland, Milford and White Lake. HVS has a rooted commitment to being a leader in the community, as evident with its slogan, "As Goes the Schools, So Goes the Community." Once the district identified the problem that its students' and community's athletic, intramural and recreational needs were falling behind those of neighboring school districts, the HVS board decided to conduct a community survey in March 2001.

The survey confirmed residents' desire to have the schools' aquatics facilities available to them and gave the school district the support it needed to introduce a bond issue for upgrades to both academic and athletic programs.

In September 2001, voters approved the largest bond proposal in the school district's history.

"The approval of the bond issue was a key step in this process," O'Brien says. "It is always a challenge to justify to voters the need for additional funds. …

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