State Grants Sought to Move Kepler Pool Rebuild Forward
Organizers of a long-needed rebuild of Kepler Pool in Bellefonte are hoping for a nearly $1 million state grant to help move the project forward.
Centre County’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution supporting a request for $999,998 from the Statewide Local Share Assessment funds administered by the Commonwealth Finance Authority to be used for renovations to the pool at Governor’s Park.
“I know all three commissioners are very supportive of this project for a broad number of fabulous reasons and we definitely would ask our two state senators and our three state representatives to burn some political capital on this one and make it happen,” board Chair Mark Higgins said.
The pool has been closed since 2020 because of mechanical and structural issues, but a 2018 regional recreational analysis and feasibility study already had recommended a rebuild of the facility, said Cindy Kunes of the Nittany Valley Joint Recreation Authority (NVJRA).
The NVJRA, which represents Bellefonte Borough and Benner, Spring and Walker townships, has owned the pool since 2013, with the Bellefonte YMCA serving as management partner.
A Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant in 2019 supported initial planning for the overhaul, but the process slowed down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic at the same time the decision was made to close the pool for the summer because of the costly repairs needed.
When the project was finally put out for bid in December 2021, the bids received were three times the allocated budget Kunes said.
“The path for this project has not been straightforward,” Kunes said. “There have been a lot of curves and bumps in the road, but we continue to be very committed in trying to move it forward.”
Momentum picked up over the past two years, however, with multiple grants secured — six in total — for the multi-million dollar project. Nittany Valley Recreation Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit, was formed as fundraising entity that would be eligible to receive grants the NVJRA otherwise would not. And local support, both through individual and business donations, has increased.
Final plans were recently completed, making the project shovel-ready. Now it just needs the rest of the money for what has been previously estimated at more than $3.5 million.
The project is expected to have two phases. The first will involve the construction of an eight-lane, competition-size main pool and systems, deck and safety equipment, concrete, plumbing and electrical work and a splash pad and play features.
“We have recognized that we need to meet current trends in recreation and in particular pool recreation, so we have to be able to build some amenities in even in the first phase to be able to attract young families there,” Kunes said.
The second phase will include a children’s wading pool and additional amenities.
The Local Share Account grant, if awarded, won’t complete the fundraising, but it will position the NVJRA to apply for an additional DCNR grant in 2024. The LSA grant does not require local matching funds, but can be used as matching funds itself.
Kunes said the NVJRA has been strongly encouraged to apply for the 2024 DCNR grant.
“Part of the reason for that is we have already secured a significant amount of local funding and also because the project is shovel ready,” she said. “We have plans that are ready to go today.”
Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Amber Concepcion called the plans “beautiful,” and said she appreciated the eight-lane pool, which can accommodate competitions that would draw visitors to the area.
“I think what’s important to emphasize about this project is both the community building aspects and the public health aspects, because drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children and teenagers and having access to a community pool is one of the greatest protective factors for children in consideration of the risk of drowning,” Concepcion said. “There’s a lot of research and evidence on that how much of a difference it makes. Knowing that this is one of the most significant risks to children’s lives really puts a point on why a project like this is critical.
“We also know giving kids and families a great place to gather, forming those bonds throughout the community and it’s a safe place to be where kids are able to recreate and hang out with each other and their families in a safe place.”
Commissioner Steve Dershem said the pool will help continue the Bellefonte area’s tradition of competitive swimming programs. He added that Kepler has long been enjoyed by the community but after more than a half century it needs to be revitalized.
“It’s a great place for children to hang out. It’s a great place for the community to build upon itself,” Dershem said. “It’s not like we haven’t enjoyed this thing since 1971. Like everything else, after 51 years you’ve got to redo and replace and reinvigorate. This design is phenomenal and I think we all heartily support your efforts and will do whatever we can do to make this a success.
“This is a big deal for the Bellefonte region and I think it would be very, very effective in solving some of the problems we like to grouse about a little bit too much. Kids need a place to be and a safe place to be. It does all that, provides safety aspects, community aspects. This will be a community hub for the region and I look forward to seeing this through to fruition.”
For more information about the Kepler Pool project and to donate, visit bellefontepool.org.