The Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Corporation has settled in on one possible location for their planned Aquatic Center. The IWVEDC is discussing leasing county property North of the Maturango Museum and the China Lake Museum location, 14.4 acres with approximately 450 feet fronting on China Lake Boulevard. It is too soon for a timeline, however, and funding for the project is still in the planning stages.

That was the word from grant writer extraordinaire Laura Hickle, who is working with the committee. Hickle was on hand at the Ridgecrest City Council meeting Wednesday to give the council (and the public) an update on the IWVEDC's progress toward a new Aquatic Center.

The group has been looking at ways to provide an Aquatic Center for the community, with the capabilities for both recreational and competitive swimming. Nearly everyone agrees this is an item of great importance, particularly after the recent closure of Pinney Pool. Suggestions for partial solutions have included a community splash pad and volunteer repairing of Pinney Pool, which may not be feasible given ADA requirements. Many agree, however, that a full-fledged aquatic center would best fill  community needs.

Hickle touted the possible location as being a particular benefit to the community. She said it could become “a nexus of our community, with the museums and the parks and the dog parks, [adding] the aquatic center just seemed reasonable.” Hickle added that the new location would be walking distance from the new Murray Middle School location and Burroughs High School.

She said that the location may necessitate some zone changing, but the group will come back later with more information on that topic, including how businesses could generate streams of revenue. Zone change requests, of course, would be heard by the Ridgecrest Planning Commission.  Hickle promised the IWVEDC would be back with frequent regular updates going forward.

Funding for the project is still uncertain. Hickle, said the committee “will be pursuing every grant and funding opportunity that is available.” One option, she said, is the California State Assistance Program for the land and water conservation fund grants administered by the National Parks Services Committee, a portion of which has been set aside for local recreational facilities.

Hickle said that particular grant is “really competitive, and its chronically underfunded” but funding would be released in 2018. She emphasized that the committee is looking everywhere for funding.
Hickle added that “after the center is complete, we have identified a series of other things we can use to provide 'learn to swim' programs. Once you have the facility, there's lots of different kinds of funding out there to run your programs, at least the first couple of years,” she said.

Hickle reported that the IWVEDC Aquatic Center committee meets weekly and is moving ahead with a contract for a feasibility study for $32,000, thanks to “generous local business support.”

This will look at desirable features for the aquatic center. “We are looking at recreational competitive swimming, we are looking at water safety, training from infant to adult,” as well as therapeutic and wellness and providing the ability to swim erect, she said.

“The second part of the contract is to get concrete estimates of the construction and cost of operations of the venue” as well as exploring water savings capabilities that can be built into the center.

The third part of the contract would provide support and guidance on funding alternatives.

In response to a question from Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens, Hickle said it is too soon to estimate a timeline.

“We don't want to report on that until we finish the feasibility report, because its going to be in terms of funds we can generate,” Hickle said. “And of course there's always the planning process and the permitting process which is its own challenges at this point so I don't really have a date but we will be coming back on a frequent basis reporting back with what we know.”

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Mower thanked the IWVEDC “for the job they're doing, and I think this will be a real asset to the community.”

“I would like to echo that,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “I truly believe this is going to be an opportunity for quality of life that is going to benefit everybody inside the city of Ridgecrest as well as outside.

“I see opportunities galore for additional businesses to come in and feed off of that and I see our kids being able to go and have fun both competitively and recreationally as well as adults also.”