An Ocala Rotary Club (Florida, US — D 6970) official said on Monday he will ask the group’s foundation board to back a fundraising drive to save the Newton A Perry Aquatic Center, a facility that will close on September 30 without financial help from the community.
Ocala Rotary Club Foundation President Jon Dean said he hopes the foundation will agree to launch the drive with at least $10,000.
If the board agrees, he plans to challenge Marion County’s other five Rotary Clubs to join the effort to raise $1.5 million to save the complex.
Dean’s announcement came at the regular noon Monday meeting of the Ocala Rotary Club.
The guest speaker at the club’s weekly meeting was College of Central Florida President Jim Henningsen.
The Newton A Perry Aquatic Center is owned by the CF.
In 2003, the college decided to close the pool, which was no longer needed for the college’s academic mission.
But the college changed its mind and agreed to lease the facility for $10 per year to Ocala Aquatics, a nonprofit organisation.
The deal was that Ocala Aquatics pay the operational costs, which is about $180,000 annually.
The college pays about $40,000 annually in other costs.
Henningsen told the group that the state Legislature keeps cutting the funding of state colleges and universities and that he can no longer help pay any expenses toward the pool.
In the lease, the college must pay for any repair costs that exceed $2,500.
The college informed Ocala Aquatics in May that it would not renew the lease.
Henningsen said the reason is that the 39-year-old pool needs to be replaced at a cost of $1.5 million.
Henningsen told Ocala Aquatics in 2013 that the group needed to raise the money for the overhaul or he would shut it down.
Since then, the group has raised only $80,000 and Henningsen decided it was too much of a safety risk to keep it open.
Ocala Aquatics officials say the pool is still operational and that the college should allow them to make repairs over the course of the next several years.
Ocala Aquatics officials also said Henningsen had promised to help raise the funds.
Henningsen said the CF Foundation initially agreed to help, but decided to focus on fundraising for college academic programmes.
During the meeting, Ocala Rotary Club members asked Henningsen if he could extend the lease so that it would give the community more time to raise the money.
After all, one member said, the community is just now learning of the crisis.
Henningsen said he wishes that Ocala Aquatics would have sounded the alarm in the community four years ago.
Henningsen did say, however, that if he felt there was a solid commitment to raising the money that he would reconsider.
“We don’t have to have all the money in hand, but if there was a sound commitment to raising the money, we could talk more,” Henningsen noted.
Meanwhile, Ocala Aquatics on Saturday also launched a GoFundMe campaign, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/OcalaAquatics. So far, $4,200 has been raised.
Dean said he has never been to the Newton Perry Aquatic Complex.
He said the community needs to come together to save the facility, where 50,000 children have learned to swim over the decades.
“We all need to do what we can,” Dean said.