Charles E. Richardson

Beware, the ‘elites’ are coming to drown our kids in a natatorium

As most readers of this page know, I grew up in California. I believe I was seven before I saw a dirt road — somewhere in Arkansas — that on a trip from California to New York City .

I only bring this up because on March 21, the good people of Houston County will have the opportunity to vote on a special purpose local option sales tax that’s estimated to raise $145 million over six years. Everyone knows Houston County is king of the orange traffic barrel and there will be more of them sprouting up as road-widening projects get started in several locations in the county if this proposal passes. I know that’s good news/bad news sort of thing.

While transportation projects will receive 26.2 percent of the money from the penny tax, public safety will get 21.4 percent. But the signature for this SPLOST is recreation at 21.1 percent — and it’s about time.

I know there are some folks who believe recreation is not one of those “must haves,” but they need to reconsider. In 2017, if a community is going to have any chance of attracting industry, recreational facilities and recreational opportunities have to be part of the picture. The SPLOST is putting 4.5 percent of the proceeds toward economic development, but without the recreation piece, that could be wasted money. And it’s not just about attracting new industry and business. It’s about keeping what you have.

So what’s the California connection and what does it have to do with this SPLOST? Let me be blunt. When I was in high school every campus in the district had its own swimming pool. Not only did every high school have its own pool, every high school in the conference had its own pool.

I’m no spring chicken. I graduated almost 48 years ago. I say that to say it’s time for Houston County to step up, and it’s trying to do just that, but there are naysayers who are throwing language around that just doesn’t make sense. Calling those in favor of the aquatics center “elites,” is one example.

When did swimming become the activity of “elites”? It certainly wasn’t apparent on my swimming team that we were “elites.” We were just black, white Mexican and Filipino kids who could swim, but “elites,” no way.

I can tell you what we were. We were kick-ass swimmers and if there were some swimming elites around, they weren’t so elite after we got through with them, ‘cause all we did was touch the wall first. And we could dive, too.

Can Middle Georgia produce world class swimmers? Of course we can. All it takes is hard work, dedication and swimming pools.

I figure some of the people against the Natatorium just don’t understand it. They see the $7 million price tag and visions of the Taj Mahal pop into their heads. But let me give them something to compare it to. The McAuley Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech, built for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, cost $21 million in 1994 dollars. The Houston County aquatic center won’t be nearly as elaborate, but it should be, and here’s why.

Georgia has been named the best state to do business for the fourth straight year. Let me tell you a little secret. Many businesses locating here are coming from other countries outside the United States. A world class natatorium would set Houston County apart from the pack that’s running after them.

I’m not really suggesting going out and spending $21 million on a swimming complex, but I am hinting that it should be more than an eight-foot-deep hole in the ground.

And there are other benefits that I guess you’d have to say go only to “elites” — you know — those elite football, basketball and baseball players Houston County high schools send to colleges each year. Swimmers and water polo players get college scholarships, too. And you better watch out, some of the business people we’re trying to attract could be some of those dreaded “elites,” too, and they might just like to swim.