A Letter to the Sentinel from Gregory Oppenhuizen, former chair of the HCAC Board

Apr 23, 2019News

By Gregory Oppenhuizen, former HCAC Board Chair – Posted Apr 23, 2019 at 5:00 PM   

The Holland Community Aquatic Center is an exceptional gem. To understand the aquatic center as only a community pool is to appreciate Tulip Time as a small-town, off-season, parade of no community value.

A typical community pool is a public resource drag even if it has some social value. But even now, for every tax dollar spent on operations at the aquatic center, roughly $10 goes back into our community — directly or indirectly. That’s $10 million annually — right now. Yes, that’s right.

The reason the aquatic center brings back so much more than it takes is quite simply because it is so special. That’s why people come here, again and again, and spend money in Holland. If we allow the aquatic center to simply grow old, we must expect that people will stop coming and bringing those dollars into our community. Slowly new facilities will displace us, just as the aquatic center did when its doors opened. The money coming into our community will go away, too.

When the aquatic center was envisioned almost 30 years ago, it was far ahead of anything similar in the Great Lakes region and we have benefited in countless ways. I was there at the start, and through good decisions and learning opportunities, when things didn’t pan out. I learned as chairman, for most of the aquatic center’s existence, that we must continually improve. Several years ago, the Aquatic Center Board embraced the concept of, “fully functional, all the time” as well as an expanded vision for aquatics, health, wellness, fitness, community involvement and fun for all, young and old. As it is, those goals cannot be accomplished.

The aquatic center will pay off the “mortgage” in May. The timely May 7 bond proposal monetizes the board’s expanded vision. Beyond what you are already paying, it will annually cost most taxpayers about the same as half a tank of gasoline to support the renovation.

A lot has changed in the past 20-25 years. The aquatic center management has always done an excellent job on timely facility maintenance. It is abject falsehood to say otherwise, but replacement of major mechanicals is inevitable. The air and humidity handling equipment at the aquatic center was state of the art — in 1997. It simply isn’t now, anymore than a 1997 Mercedes Benz limousine with 400,000 miles on it. It’s yesterday’s technology and eventually you won’t be able to get parts.

One of the major learning experiences over the past 20 years is that, to be exceptional, the aquatic center required management and leadership vision that exceeds what can be found in the “aquatic’s community.” Aquatics experience is enough to run a community pool, but not a facility of the caliber and potential of the Holland Aquatic Center. The present leadership at the aquatic center has been prudent, skillful, inquisitive and wise. The management and the current board are to be commended for all of these traits. They understand that the status quo will be the demise of the aquatic center. Renovation, as proposed, is the only wise and prudent thing to do.

I vividly remember the naysayers 25-30 years ago. I remember turf battles, petty jealousies, misconceptions, even changes to the Michigan Constitution that held the project back for years. People earnestly told me that we were creating an elitist country club that would not serve the “greater community.” My favorite was the letter telling us to fund the pool with bake sales and car washes. They were wrong then and it seems only the names have changed today. We must do better.

On May 7, the Holland Community has the opportunity, once again, to share in a vision that will build our community even as the Holland Community Aquatic Center has supported Holland to this day. I am confident that every dollar we commit to the aquatic center renovation will come back in multiples to our community. Even more, the new Holland Aquatic Center will continue as Holland’s glistening community diamond.

— Greg Oppenhuizen is a former chairman of the Holland Community Swimming Pool Authority (1997-2015). He resides in Holland

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