NEW PORT RICHEY — Swimmers young and old are making waves during the normally quiet winter months at the city's Recreation and Aquatic Center lap pool.
A renewed relationship between the city and a local youth swim team has not only put dozens of Pasco kids back into the pool to train, but a financial agreement between the two has been a boon for the public.
It's a remarkable turnaround from July when Parks and Recreation director Elaine Smith told the City Council she was forced to recommend closing the lap pool entirely for the winter. There just weren't enough to swimmers to justify the thousands of dollars it would cost to heat the pool.
Circumstances changed when Patrick Piper, new owner of the New Port Richey Tampa Bay Aquatics team known as T-Bay, came to the table asking for a compromise to keep his swimmers in the pool.
T-Bay had long trained at the recreation center under previous management, but in recent years things turned contentious with the city. A budget squeeze meant that funds generated by the team would not be enough to keep the pool open between November and March when heating costs skyrocket.
In addition, T-Bay in New Port Richey was not growing, Piper said, which left around a dozen youth swimmers facing the loss of their team. But as Piper moved toward taking over the team Nov. 1, he sought to work out a deal with the city.
"It would have left a lot of kids without a team," Piper said. "So we wanted to see if we could work with the city and they welcomed a new start with open arms."
The two sides reached a deal where T-Bay would continue to pay $12-an-hour for pool time and would also kick in half the funds for heating the pool. It's a sacrifice for both, Piper said, as the hourly rate being offered by the city is deeply discounted from the market rate. But the increased heating expenses will mean a budget hit to T-Bay of about $1,000 a month, Piper estimated.
"We are going to be in the red for the first six months. But that's okay with me because we are building a business and a true partnership with the city," he said. "And the skills the kids learn will make memories that last a lifetime."
With T-Bay picking up half the heating costs, rec center members will get lane time when the lap pool would likely have been closed, Smith said. T-Bay has also agreed to allow lane space for the public during its practices.
"It's been very important," she said of T-Bay's financial input. "(Piper) has been so cooperative in promoting the pool and willing to bring people in."
And the good vibes are indeed bringing people in. Smith said she has seen a marked increase in the public's use of the lap pool as the center has moved open swim hours to the afternoon. Piper said his team has gone from 12 swimmers to 35 just based on word-of-mouth that T-Bay is expanding.
It also helps to have a young energetic coach, Katrice Ewanich, a former University of Alabama scholarship swimmer, who Piper recently hired to run the team. As the 25-year-old who goes by Coach K recently worked out a couple of high school-aged swimmers, she said her goal is to make each swimmer better through effort and hard work.
It's a sentiment Fivay High School student Alex Moreta is buying into.
"I really enjoy swimming and I want to try to get better," the 15-year-old said catching his breath after several laps.