Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

Columbia City leaders faced a common dilemma when deciding the future of the city’s dilapidated swimming pool.

Should they sink additional money into a 60-year-old structure for repairs? Or should they build something new?

They chose the latter and broke ground in August on an aquatics center that will breathe new life into the northeastern Indiana city’s recreation opportunities. The Russel & Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Center will boast a lap pool that will allow the city to host swim meets and a sizeable area for small children.

“We know quality-of-life amenities attract talent and attract population growth. That is the centerpiece of this. Even past that our tagline is ‘Building a Future Together,’ this is one of multiple pieces going on right now in Columbia City of ways in which we can attract additional residents and provide a great amenity for our current residents,” Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said.

The state’s local economic development initiative, Regional Cities, is providing funding for the project, along with private donations. The goal is for the city to attract visitors not only from Columbia City but Whitley County and the surrounding region.

Among the features, the aquatics facility will include a playground, water slides, lily pads for kids to maneuver and a vortex circular current area. The design also will allow the facility’s use to extend beyond warm weather months. Plans call for opening a synthetic ice skating rink during winter.

In August, a large crowd gathered at the construction site for the ground breaking event. City and state officials joined community members to celebrate the new pool, while paying tribute to the long-time facility the aquatics center will replace.

“I have a lot of great memories here at Burnworth Pool,” the city’s parks director Mark Green told the crowd. “I learned to swim at this pool.”

But Green recalled his surprise when he saw the state of the pool years later when touring the facilities.

“It just didn’t quite look the same to me,” he said, which is when the bold vision of constructing an aquatics center began.

Along with the pool, a new high school is under construction in Columbia City – the only project of its kind currently underway in the state, Daniel said. The city also is making progress on trails and parks, with the goal of being the place where people choose to live.

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