Grassroots group rouses support for community aquatics center

Posted on October 6th, 2021 By:

Two moms frustrated by a scarcity of swimming lessons in Gig Harbor have launched a campaign they hope will culminate in a community aquatic center.

Three months since meeting on Facebook over their shared concern, Sarah Stancikas and Heather Maher have collected more than 1,000 petition signatures and many letters from individuals, businesses and organizations supporting their Swim Safe Gig Harbor effort. They’ve even begun to sell “Pool Crew” shirts, which they wore during a presentation Tuesday night to the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District.

Heather Mayer, left, and Sarah Stancikas update the PenMet Parks board on their groundwork for a new community aquatics center.

Heather Maher, left, and Sarah Stancikas update the PenMet Parks board on their groundwork for a new community aquatics center. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

Existing local pools require membership, are expensive or don’t offer conducive times, the women told the PenMet board. The high school pools give priority to their sports teams, which leaves little flexibility for outside use. More than 800 families are on the waiting list for lessons at a local professional swim school. Both the school district and swim school have written letters backing the vision.

Peninsula schools superintendent Krestin Bahr agrees that, “the functionality of the available pools in Gig Harbor no longer meet the needs of our growing community.”

Beard Swim Co. founder Amanda Beard, an Olympic gold medalist, wrote that, “Gig Harbor desperately needs a public aquatic facility to continue to provide for the water safety and water recreation needs of our expanding community.”

Beard Swim Co. has only small learning pools not suited for swim teams, fitness, aerobics or senior classes, said Stancikas.

“The swim school is great for what they do offer, but it’s just not enough for all of what Gig Harbor needs,” she said.

Tom Taylor Family YMCA has a pool, but requires membership and it can be difficult to get into swim classes, Maher said.

Photo of the front of the old Peninsula Gardens nursery building.

Swim Safe Gig Harbor is proposing that PenMet’s former Peninsula Gardens property would be a good site for a swimming facility. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

In a slide show, Stancikas and Maher pointed to Snohomish Aquatic Center and Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center as multi-purpose facilities to emulate. Both feature two pools, for competition and fun, offering opportunities for everybody — swim lessons, sports, fitness and aquatic therapy.

“The dream is for our town to have something like this, a facility that can meet the whole community’s aquatic needs,” Maher said.

Before Tuesday’s 15-minute presentation, the women had regularly appeared in front of the PenMet board in 3-minute snippets during public comment time, and, in fact, persuaded it to devote 2022 budget funds to perform a feasibility study about building an aquatic facility on one of its properties.

Swim Safe proposes PenMet’s former Peninsula Gardens property as a potential site. Sided by Wollochet Drive and Filmore Drive, the 10-acre plat is centrally located, easily accessible, already developed, has plenty of room for parking and has sat idle for 11 years.

Aquatic centers are expensive to build and maintain. Swim Safe foresees a combination of funding from private donors, grants, bonds and community partnerships.

SwimSafe's Sarah Stancikas, left, and Heather Maher narrate a slide show to the PenMet board about a possible aquatic center.

Swim Safe’s Sarah Stancikas, left, and Heather Maher narrate a slide show to the PenMet board about a possible aquatic center. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now

Friends of Lopez Island Pool commenced a pool campaign in 2009 that has now raised nearly $6 million for the $8 million project. The 2.5 acres was donated. Various state funds have pitched in more than $1.5 million. Serving a population of about 3,000, the facility will be smaller than what the Gig Harbor area, home to about 50,000 people, needs.

Snohomish Aquatic Center, which opened in 2014, cost $22.2 million. When Bainbridge Parks explored replacing its 50-year-old competition pool in 2019, the estimate came in at about $40 million.

Besides the exercise and enjoyment of swimming, Swim Safe also stresses safety. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in U.S. children ages 1 to 4 and is the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in ages 5 to 19.

“I talk with so many other moms who say their kids don’t know how to swim, and yet our city is surrounded by water,” Maher said.

Board member Amanda Babich told the women that she’s looking forward to the next step, and Kurt Grimmer was impressed with the amount of support they’ve gathered.

“I think something like this would be great down the road,” said board member Laurel Kingsbury. “It will be a great opportunity for partnerships and collaborating together.”