The ever-growing Keiser University is building a state-of-the-art, Olympic-size swimming pool – right in the heart of Palm Beach County, and with the support of two world-class Olympic swimmers.
The new Aquatic Center will be home to the Keiser Seahawks swim team, with the men’s and women’s teams bringing home the 2022 NAIA Swimming and Diving National Championships. But it also will serve a crucial community role: Offering a place for children to learn how to swim, while being an economic engine for sports tourism.
“This is a generational investment,” Keiser Vice Chancellor Belinda Keiser said at the Aquatic Center Community Leader fundraising dinner Wednesday night, which featured Olympians Dara Torres and Ryan Lochte.
I was invited to the event at Keiser’s flagship campus on Military Trail north of Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach to hear more about the Aquatic Center and what the facility will offer to the community. The university plans for this to be a first-class complex, not just for its swim teams – which now practice at Lake Lytal Family Aquatic Center on Gun Club, a roughly 20-minute drive from the flagship campus – but for the community as a whole thanks to its promise to offer space for swim lessons.
Wednesday night’s dinner featured a panel moderated by Keli Ferguson, sports anchor for ESPN West Palm, WPTV and WFLX, and featuring Lochte, Torres and Palm Beach County Sports Commission Executive Director George Linley. They discussed how the Aquatic Center will benefit the local economy, drawing more major sports competitions to the area and teams from up north eager to take advantage of our incredible weather for training.
But they also highlighted the importance of swim lessons for little ones. The Aquatic Complex will have a dedicated children’s training pool.
With South Florida’s abundant pools and natural bodies of water, there is much work to be done: Over the past decade, drownings among children ages 3-5 have increased by more than 50 percent, according to a Florida TaxWatch report. For children ages 5-12, the number of drownings has risen more than 62 percent.
Adding another facility where children can receive this life-saving training is a major win for our county.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Kristina, this is going to be in West Palm Beach. Why should we care, when we have an Aquatics Complex here in Wellington where kids can learn how to swim?”
The answer: Keiser is worth supporting as a member of our community. Earlier this year, the school bought a farm on A Road in Loxahatchee Groves. The 9-acre property is the new home of Keiser’s equestrian club team. It also will help the university expand its equine studies program. With so many local equestrians and a fantastic equine pre-vet program at Wellington High School, Keiser’s facility is a great fit.
Importance of training
Among the crowd of local, state and regional officials, Keiser University Board members, students, faculty, staff, donors and media at Wednesday’s event were retired and current swim instructors and coaches.
Seated at my table was Mara Pawlenok of Delray Beach, who retired after 40 years as a high school swim coach in northeastern Pennsylvania. Her “retirement job,” as she called it, is teaching children’s swim lessons, many at the pool at Wycliffe Golf & Country Club just east of Wellington, where she works with residents’ children and grandchildren.
“It’s important to make sure they’re comfortable, make sure they’re liking it and make sure it’s a very positive experience,” she said. “Since I moved down to Florida, I was very shocked at the number of fatalities there were with accidental drownings. … I think everybody knowing how to swim is a very, very important skill to have.”
Highlighted by Keiser throughout Wednesday’s event is a state bill passed in the 2021 legislative session called “Every Child a Swimmer.” The law requires all public schools to ask parents of children entering Kindergarten if they have given their child swim lessons. If the answer is no, then the school is required to give the parents information about local swim lessons and resources. The bill was lauded Wednesday as a major step in raising awareness about the importance of swim training from an early age.
State-of-the-art Aquatic Center
The Aquatic Center has an expected budget of $8 million. It will include two pools, one of which will be a 50-meter Olympic-size pool. A multipurpose building will include offices and locker rooms. Land is being cleared for the project toward the northwest corner of Keiser’s flagship campus.
“We’re going to build a facility that is first-rate, first-class,” said Dale Hedrick, CEO of Hedrick Brothers Construction, which has been contracted to build the complex.
The centerpiece of the new facility will be its Myrtha Pool, a company known for designing and engineering Olympic-quality pools. The company’s technology also is used in pools for luxury condominiums, hotels, resorts and cruise ships. You may have seen one of their pools locally at The Bristol condominium overlooking downtown West Palm Beach and Palm Beach island.
A groundbreaking is expected next year.
It was really incredible to hear from Dara Torres and Ryan Lochte, two world-class athletes, on the potential for this new facility.
Lochte noted that with a top-of-the-line facility and great weather, there is massive potential.
“This is my favorite city in the entire country,” he said. “This is where I want to retire.”
“A lot of the colleges up north will come down to use the pool to train during cold months or Christmas break,” said Torres, who grew up in Coral Springs and noted that when training there, “we always had colleges coming down because it’s so cold up north that to have the luxury of being outside, training outside. … It’s just a huge luxury.”
For more information or to find out how to make a donation to the Keiser University Aquatic Center, go to aquaticcenter.keiseruniversity.edu.
This post was sponsored by Keiser University. All opinions are 100% my own. For more information, go to my Disclosure page.