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Mitchell Aquatic Club takes fundraising plunge

Ethan Huber, 13, with the Mitchell Aquatic Club, competes Friday in the 1,500-meter freestyle swim during the 2014 South Dakota Long Course State Championship Swim Meet at the Hitchcock Pool in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

As swimmers from across the state compete in Mitchell this weekend, a local swimming club is committing itself to raising money to help build a competition-sized indoor swimming pool in the city.

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On Monday, Ryan Huber, president of the Mitchell Aquatic Club, told the City Council the club is willing to commit $1 million if the city chooses to move ahead with the project.

On Friday, Huber watched from the deck of the city’s outdoor pool at Hitchcock Park, as swimmers raced back and forth on the first day of the 2014 South Dakota Long Course State Championship Swim Meet. He talked more about the club’s $1 million commitment, expressing confidence in the club’s ability to raise such a large amount of money.

“It’s not something we’re nervous about. We know we have to do it,” he said. “It’s one of those things that, at the end of the day, if we don’t raise the money and commit it to the city, we’re not a club anymore.”

The city’s proposal, if approved, would mean the construction of an indoor swimming pool next to, or attached to, Dakota Wesleyan University’s yet-to-be-built wellness center on the south side of the school’s campus in Mitchell.

Wesleyan plans to break ground this fall on a new $10 million, 90,000-square-foot wellness center. A rough estimate of the cost of the city’s indoor swimming pool is $6 million, according to Mayor Ken Tracy.

Huber said his club’s $1 million commitment to the project would actually be five $200,000 payments over five years.

The club quietly started its fundraising effort about a month ago, Huber said, and already has at least $250,000 committed for the project.

“I’ve already asked a few people and they’ve committed big dollars,” Huber said. “I think Mitchell is prepared to build a new indoor pool.”

A handful of the club’s members are from smaller towns in the area and, if necessary, Huber said they could be asked to look for willing donors in those towns.

“I think we’re going to get enough support right here in Mitchell, because Mitchell wants it so bad,” he said.

When the Mitchell Middle School’s pool closed in 2009, it left the club without a permanent home. After that, members of the club traveled back and forth to Huron for months to practice, until a temporary location was opened on North Main Street, across from the Mitchell Recreation Center.

In 2010, the club’s temporary indoor pool collapsed and sent thousands of gallons of water out onto the street and into nearby businesses. The club used insurance money to buy another pool, which isn’t regulation size and can’t be used for meets.

Kyle Margheim, the club’s swimming coach, said the temporary facility serves its purpose, but doesn’t do much to inspire the club’s swimmers.

“It’s not the best, and kids get discouraged or they feel like swimming isn’t treated like a real activity here because we’re in a facility like that,” Margheim said. “So, they go out and find other activities.”

Margheim said a new indoor swimming pool would likely encourage more people to join the club, and energize the community about swimming.

Despite the club’s enthusiasm for the proposed project, Huber said a new facility would have benefits outside the club.

“We’re not building this for the Mitchell Aquatic Club,” he said. “We’re building this for the health and wellness of Mitchell.”

Tracy, the city’s mayor, said he intends to allow a period of time for city officials to listen to feedback about the proposed project but, if the project is well-received, the city will soon have to consider finding an architect.

“It’s not something that I want to delay for any specific length of time,” Tracy said. “I would think we would try to put a request for proposals together soon.”