BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) – The Bluffton Fins club swim team has bounced around from pool to pool this summer. Since 2016 they’ve called the Bluffton pool facility home, but a recent cost increase to rent lanes along with the several operational flaws have caused some parents concern and led them to temporarily practice at the Hilton head Aquatic Center.
“We have the one facility and as you’ve heard, the conditions at that facility are not good and it seems like almost monthly were at risk of losing it. So we’re constantly trying to fight to keep our kids swimming,” said Jennifer Montero, whose son is on the team.
For the Bluffton pool, it’s a matter of finding the balance between allowing the community to use the pool and giving what they consider appropriate access to the Fins swim team. In June, a price increase was implemented due to maintenance costs, a lifeguard shortage as well as future renovation plans for the current facility.
“We gave the swim team two options, option one was that they would get exclusive use of the pool from 4pm to 8:45 at a cost of $110 per session, they get the pool we provide the life guards. The second option is they could reserve three lanes starting at 4 and going to 7 which is normal public swim hours, and they’d be charged $5 per lane per hour,” said Chris Ophardt, Beaufort County Public Information Officer.
The core mission of the pool is to teach kids how to swim, which is important in a County that consists of more than half water. According to Ophardt, the increase in costs was implemented to help with operational costs, as well as some short term maintenance needed for the facility while they search for long-term funding to handle the bigger issues at hand.
“Prior to the pandemic, the Fins swim team, which uses the Bluffton pool was being charged $60 for exclusive use of the pool, that’s per session. Averages out to be around $1,000 per month. As they came back from the pandemic, the Parks & Recreation board re-looked at the fees being charged to the swim team,” explained Ophardt.
“A private citizen who wants to rent the pool exclusively pays $600 per hour. For the swim team, the board decided they needed to up the fees to keep up with maintenance costs and other operational costs so they upped it to $110 per session to have exclusive use of the pool,” he said.
Long term, the team says a new facility is needed for the 60-plus members of the team that’s sent over 450 kids on to higher education. Not only does this team help the kids swim competitively, for some, it also provides a sense of belonging.
“My son has learning disabilities, social anxiety, a lot of different academic problems and the swim team has really given him, where he’s came out of his shell talking to other kids now, he feels more included, he feels like he has a family so on top of the physical activity that’s helped him also,” said Montero.
Yorlliry Moreno, or Coach George as he’s known by the team, was one of the three original members of the Fins and has been with the group since the beginning. He’s seen coaches in the past struggle with finding a reliable and safe facility for the team, and he, along with the parents, hope that one day soon the Fins can find a place that’s big enough to call home.
After a meeting today, the team decided to resume practice at the Bluffton pool during the hours of 4-7 for $5 per lane per hour. Though this may resolve their short term problems, the team is still hoping for some long term change. Ideally, a new facility somewhere in the area.
The Beaufort County Board will monitor the use of the Bluffton pool facility over the next six months to see just how much demand the pool currently has during the hours the team wishes to use the facility.