A ground-breaking ceremony was held at 168 E. Olentangy St. on Tuesday to mark the start of construction on a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot swim facility coming to Powell.
The Powell Aquatics Center, which is being built by Buckeye Swimming founder and head coach Laurie Karr, will be a five-lane, 25-yard competitive pool with dedicated areas for swim lessons. The facility, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year, will host both the Buckeye Swim School and the competition-based Buckeye Swim team.
Karr, a former Division I swimmer at Ohio State and former head swim coach at Olentangy Liberty High School, currently operates her programs out of the Columbus North Athletic Club. Karr said she was searching for a modern facility that would provide additional space for the younger levels of swimmers when she found the opportunity in Powell.
“We wanted something that was a little more robust for some lessons and for the beginning stages of swim team up through about middle school age, which is what we’re aiming for with this new facility,” Karr told The Gazette.
Specifically, Karr said she wanted a modernized facility that will have more seating for parents and updated restroom facilities in addition to a dedicated swim lesson space, among other things. To be able to do so in the community she calls home has been additionally special for Karr.
“I never actually thought that I would be able to build in my community, so this is a little bit of a dream here,” she said. “We never thought that we would be able to find a space that would work. To be able to find the space, it was a little bit of luck, a little bit of searching outside of the box, and it’s kind of just came together at the right time for us.”
Karr said there are 65 high school swim programs in central Ohio, yet there are only six on-campus pools in the area. She added that the Powell Aquatics Center will be the first mixed-use facility of its kind in central Ohio where the primary focus is complete swim education from learning how to swim up through national competitions.
“For the (swim) team, it helps get us in front of and closer to our audience, which a lot of our swimmers are Olentangy Local School District students anyways,” Karr said. “So, it gets us closer to them. And it enables introductory swim team kids a place to go that is a little more friendly to young swimmers.
“For the swim school, this is getting us kicked off. I’ve been in the swim school business for many, many years, and managed a swim school here in town. It’s been my dream to have a swim school that completely sees my vision as far as curriculum and what kids need in order to succeed. This gives the opportunity to offer that, and we’re offering it to our neighbors first, which makes it even better.”
While the Powell location will serve as the first aquatic center in Delaware County, it likely won’t be long before a second, more expansive facility joins it. Prior to the Powell location taking shape, Karr had long been working on bringing a facility to Peachblow Road in Berlin Township since acquiring the land in 2014.
The Peachblow location is proposed to be twice as large as the Powell facility with considerably more pool space, Karr said, adding that she hopes to be able to break ground on that facility next year. Asked if she believes the facility, when finished, could become a home for the Olentangy Schools’ swim programs, Karr said, “Absolutely.”
“We anticipate, for sure, the Peachblow (location) hosting at least two of the high school teams, if not more,” Karr said. “The Powell location is a little on the small side for what a high school team would need, so I don’t know that that will be able to help them as much as they need. They really need more than five lanes.”
Regardless of who ultimately benefits from each location, Karr is excited to be both in her element and in her community as she helps kids achieve their goals in the pool. Asked what she enjoys the most about leading the swim programs, Karr said, “Seeing the kids in the water. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a kid get a skill and grinning from ear to ear.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.