Ten thousand dollars.
After months of fundraising, that is all that remains between a grassroots effort to keep Columbia’s only indoor aquatic center from closing and their final goal of raising the more than $300,000 needed to fund the repairs and renovations to keep the facility open.
“We are chipping away at it and getting close,” said Gale Moore, a triathlete and swim instructor who has led the effort since the recreation center announced plans to close the pools in March.
Previously a YMCA, David Baxter of Medical Necessities purchased the shuttered 55,000 square-foot building located at 1446 Oak Springs Drive for $1.6 million in 2016, and rebranded the center under the name Multown Rec.
Along with an exercise center, the facility has an indoor Olympic-sized lap pool, a 4-foot kids’ pool with slide and fountain, an aquatic-therapy pool and men and women’s saunas.
Michael McNutt, the center’s CEO, previously told The Daily Herald the ongoing cost of maintenance and repairs of the center’s indoor pools have resulted in the largest portion of operating loss, while showing the least overall member utilization.
He said the indoor pool area is in need of several high-cost renovations, including the replacement of the indoor pool dehumidification system, resurfacing the lap pool and replacing the heater and plumbing for the whirlpool.
With concerns for the closure’s impact on the general health of the community, as well as the more than more 60 student-athletes enrolled in swim teams at the local public school district who use the facility to hold practices and host meets, supporters of the facility have continued to pursue an external effort to keep the pools from shuttering for good.
Late last month, after missing a deadline that was seen as an end to the initiative, the effort saw a rebirth when an anonymous donor pledged $75,000 to the effort.
Since then, the group has continued to gather funds through a growing list of pledges promising to support the effort from a growing list of supporters including local physicians, car dealers and other businesses.
Although a final deadline of Friday, Oct. 9 approaches, Moore said the recent push in support has again postponed the center’s permanent closure.
As the organization remains a private entity, supporters have struggled to gather direct support from the local school district and Columbia’s city council. However, the city government, after deciding not to provide a direct financial contribution to the effort, promised to purchase a membership for each of its employees to the fitness center for three years, representing a total investment of more than $300,000 into the private recreation center.
The initiative has fond success in collecting pledges to pay for the repairs in exchange for advertising space within the facility, circumventing the need for local businesses and organizations to directly made a contribution to a private entity.
Prospective supporters have been given the option to choose from three advertising tiers, set at $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000. The contributions offered financial support to fund the pools in exchange for advertising space at the facility.
“We are still accepting pledges, and we appreciate everyone that has supported it,” Moore said.
Parks Motors Sales, Mr. B’s Air Duct Cleaning, Industrial Contractors and The McEwen Group have promised to provide financial support to the initiative. The Columbia-based JRN, Inc, which owns KFC franchises across the South, also made a contribution to support the pools.
Proponents of the indoor facility have continually stated that the loss of the pools would lead to a dramatic decline in the quality of life for Columbia’s residents, resulting in at least 10 local swim teams being forced to find a new home, as well as the loss of a source of exercise for those in physical therapy, especially the region’s elderly residents.
Moore commends local swim instructor Angel Harmon and a group of dedicated local seniors who have been working hard to continue the fundraising effort. She also commended the work of fellow leaders in the initiative, including Catherine Davis, a local swim instructor; Ginger Harlan, a senior water aerobics instructor; and Jo Ann Santana, a midwife who was able to collect donations from as far away as New Zealand.
Radio benefit planned to bring additional support
As the effort nears its total goal, John Cowan, a celebrated session musician who has performed on albums for John Prine, Kenny Rogers, Darius Rucker, Ricky Skaggs, Zac Brown and The Doobie Brothers, among many others, plans to host a radio benefit for the initiative on local station WKOM.
Unwilling to remain a supporting musician, John left the Doobie Brothers to follow his creative muse in pursuit of a solo career that found him circling back to what he describes as his acoustic “newgrass” roots.
The benefit its tentatively scheduled to be held on Thursday, Oct. 15 on WKOM Radio 101.7 FM.
Cowan previously supported a local initiative with his music, when he performed at the 15th annual Mule Town Revue in 2017, raising funds for CASA of Maury County, a group dedicated to serving more than 200 children in the Maury County court system. The organization also uses the assistance of medical professionals, investigators and other child-service advocacy organizations.
He again returned to perform at the Revue in 2019 as the event raised funds for the Maury Regional Health Foundation.
The upcoming radio fundraiser is planned to be co-hosted by showrunner George Hamilton V, who leads the the station’s popular “Americana Central Time,” a down-home production that reflects the roots of the Grand Ole Opry’s popular weekly broadcast.
The son of country star George Hamilton IV, known for hits “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” “Before this Day Ends” and “Abilene,” the two would share the stage at the Grand Ole Opry when Hamilton was still too young to drive.
The two will lead the call on the local airwaves, encouraging locals to make a contribution in the final push to save the region’s only indoor aquatics facility.
“We are very hopeful,” said Moore said. “It is so nice to see the community community together in a time of divisiveness. This is something we all seem to agree. We will have a lot more to offer if this works.”
Moore and other supporters have continually argued that while the repairs may cost thousands, construction of a new indoor aquatics center will cost investors estimated $10 million.
“Building a facility that would meet these needs would cost millions. What we need for our community exists in a great location. Letting the pools slip away would be a huge waste of resources,” Moore said. “It serves all populations with the two-pool set-up. From the child who takes his first swim, to the octogenarian, to the teenager who is on the swim team, to the young adults striving for fitness, the indoor pools are an important part of life for many Maury County citizens and should continue to be.”
Especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Moore said the greater Maury County community faces losing one of its strongest sources of year-round exercise and wellness opportunities, as it continues to battle obesity rates and other health issues that come from the lack of a healthy diet and exercise.
“This is an opportunity to reinvest,” Moore previously told The Daily Herald. “If the pools close, it will be a tremendous setback for Columbia, as it will show us moving backward instead of forward when it comes to quality of life issues for all of our citizens. Muletown Rec has been extremely generous to fund the pools for the past 4 years since they bought the facility. They inherited pools which were dormant for a year and which suffered from lack of maintenance. I think it is important to remember the funds to build these pools came from our community.”
How to help
For additional information on how to support the initiative to keep the indoor pools at Muletown Rec open, contact Gale Moore at [email protected]