By JOY CRIST
At a public meeting with the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) in March, a number of controversial topics with varying viewpoints were brought to attention (i.e., beach nourishment.) Speakers would head to the podium to share their thoughts with the BOC, and were met with applause, the shaking of heads, or a general mixture of both.
However, there was one public comment that everyone in attendance appeared to agree with.
“How many of you want a pool?” the speaker asked the crowd at the Fessenden Center meeting, and just about everyone raised their hand in response.
Meet Anita Bills.
With a small and informal team of seven people, including herself, Anita is making major headway towards making the dream of an indoor and heated community pool come to fruition.
This is not the first time that a potential pool for islanders has been in the spotlight. In 2003 and 2004, the county conducted a survey across the island to see if locals would be interested in having an indoor pool that was open to the public. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the potential project made some fairly big steps. A
$400,000 donation was earmarked for the pool, blueprints were drafted in the mid-2000s, and early assessments were done for a possible locale next to the school.
But then the project sort of fizzled out. There were differences of opinions, gigantic time and financial commitments, and other miscellaneous factors that halted what had been done so far. Most of the $400,000 was eventually donated to the school – still a very worthy cause – and by the late 2000s, islanders had sort of forgotten about the pool project, and went on with more important and pressing concerns, such as 2011’s Hurricane Irene.
But Anita never forgot. A swimming instructor since she was 20, and a Hatteras Island resident for 19 years, Anita reached out to Dare County Parks and Recreation about a year ago and received a huge packet of all of the work that had been done since a community pool was first proposed.
“We have all the old blueprints and old papers from 2004 and 2005, and we have who is going to build it - We just have so much input and information from the original paperwork,” she says.
And then things really started to fall into place. A small group of folks were casually enlisted to help, which included a local Realtor, a retired corporate mortgage broker, a medical lawyer who knows all about writing grants, and Anita’s husband, who manages multi-million dollar development projects.
“The timing is right, and we’ve been very blessed with folks who want to help,” says Anita. “Nobody has an agenda, with the exception of getting this pool built. It’s 100% a group effort, and this is our only goal.”
And since starting their efforts roughly a year ago, Anita and her crew have made some huge steps forward.
The proposed indoor community pool will be a 25-yard, eight-lane pool. It will descend to 8 ft. deep, and will have parking, a storage area for chemicals and supplies, and other future touches that will make it accessible for everyone, like a ramp.
But one of the hardest parts for planning such a facility is finding a property on Hatteras Island that fits the bill.
The property has to be high and dry in order to reach the required depths, has to be 4-5 acres in area, and has to take a number of additional little things into consideration. For example, at one point it was proposed that the pool could be established close to the Cape Hatteras Elementary School in Buxton, but this plan would bring too much traffic and congestion to an otherwise residential neighborhood.
So Anita and Co. spent a long time hunting. They looked at the former Falcon Motel in Buxton, but it was only three acres, and it eventually sold. Other properties were tossed around as possibilities, but they didn’t meet all the requirements needed for the overall facility.
Recently, however, there has been a big breakthrough in the property hunt. Through word of mouth, Anita and her team found a property right across the street from Indiantown Shores in Frisco, and close to Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts. The proposed site is part of a 100-acre tract, and the owner has shown interest in using a piece of the property for the future facility.
“It’s been a lot of diligent work, but I think the owner may be on board,” says Anita. “There’s lots of wetlands back there, but there’s also ridge behind the go-kart track, which could support the pool. It’s far enough away from the wells - 1,000 feet – and the pool would be at the back of the property, with room for parking and a storage area.”
“A lot of things are falling into place right now.”
Anita and her team have been meeting with the owner and his family to move forward on acquiring the property, and things are looking very promising.
Now, the only trouble is funding, but bear in mind that there’s a grant writer on board, and tons of support from the community, too.
“Names of grants have been thrown to us left and right, and grants will hopefully be one of the biggest sources for funding,” says Anita.
And future fundraisers are being planned as well. The annual Carey LeSieur Bucket Block Party on May 19th will go to benefit two causes this year – the Carey LeSieur Foundation Scholarship, and the proposed community pool. The party, which has been a favorite annual tradition for many locals and longtime visitors, is also shaping up to be better than ever this year, with a special appearance by the CHSS jazz band, a dog show, tons of food that ranges from beef brisket to a 40+ gallon shrimp boil, and so much more.
“The party is free for everyone,” says Anita. “Just bring a dish, come out on May 19, and have some fun!”
The pool project in its entirety is estimated to cost $10 million dollars. Sounds steep, but remember, that there’s a lot of folks in the community who would love to see this dream of Anita’s come to fruition.
An indoor pool means that the Cape Hatteras Schools could have a swim team. It means that older members of the community could regularly enjoy a low-impact exercise. It means that vacation rental homeowners and companies could have an extra selling point to attract vacationers to the island. It means that local kids would have a way to be entertained all year long. And it means that everybody, on a cold winter day with a nor’easter blowing outside, could go for a relaxing and mind-clearing swim in a warm indoor pool.
And our tourism-dependent economy means that continually funding the pool wouldn’t be all that difficult.
“We’re in better shape than, say, Currituck County would be, because we get so many vacationers and that’s where our revenue could come from,” says Anita.
“There’s a lot of potential here, we just have to get it done,” she adds. “The concept has been out there, but nobody wanted to take on the responsibility because of the money and amount of work behind it.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for nine years, but picked up the project and started working on it at this time last year. I just cannot let this ball drop. It’s been needed for too long.”
Today, Anita has the right people involved, has the right property in mind, and the project is steadily moving forward as more and more people express eagerness to help.
“We have a lot of connections – like [one person] in construction who offered to help drive in the pilings,” she says. “There are a lot of locals who want to step up to the plate and help.”
So there’s tons to be hopeful for when it comes to a community pool. Granted, it’s a project that has been lingering for roughly 15 years, but today there’s a property in mind, blueprints already in place, and a small but incredibly dedicated team as the backbone of the project, who won’t give up until the dream becomes a reality.
Thanks to Anita and her team, who have already logged in countless hours of work, a community pool is very much within reach.
“It’s all in play, and a lot of the work has already been done,” she says. “This is something I am adamant about. I may be dead when it’s done, but I will always be working on it.”