Kensley Grace Foundation seeking community support

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Neil Daniell said bringing an aquatic center to Henry County would have a much greater impact than simply giving people a place to swim.

“When you look at this center, look at it as an economic engine and not as a swimming pool,” said Daniell. “It is not a swimming pool.”

The Kensley Grace Foundation arranged for local residents to tour the aquatic center at Georgia Tech. The foundation is in the midst of a fundraising effort to bring the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center to Henry County. Special photo

Daniell, vice-president of the Kensley Grace Foundation, addressed more than 30 business and government professionals who toured an aquatic center at Georgia Tech Thursday. The foundation is currently in the capital fundraising phase of bringing the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center to Henry County, and is working to get the word out to the community about the need to support the project.

The foundation’s namesake, Kensley Grace Kirby, died in 2011 at age 5. The charitable organization was established in her honor the following year.

The aquatic center will include an Olympic-size swimming pool, grandstand seating, additional pools for training and therapy and a Splashpad. Daniell said in addition to providing a place for swimming lessons and recreation, the center will serve as an ideal location for competitions and tournaments, thereby bringing more people Henry County.

“The fees on the tournaments are significant,” said Daniell. “You’re looking at $1,500-2,000 per team. The facility itself will easily be able to generate revenue to stay afloat.”

The Kensley Grace Aquatic Center will be a world-class, family-oriented, competitive swimming facility in Henry County. The center is expected to generate a nearly $3 million annual increase to local businesses, just from swim teams in the area using the center. When factoring in other features and events, Daniell said, the figure could be much higher.

As an example, he pointed to plans for a Splashpad to be installed at the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center.

“One of the biggest economic engines for this type of facility is the Splashpad,” said Daniell. “When the designs were first made for the Kensley Grace facility, a Splashpad was not part of it. After going out and talking to other facilities, they told us, ‘You need to add the Splashpad to it because that’s the revenue generator, specifically in the summer months when all these kids are looking for something to do.”

“What kind of money are we losing in Henry County because of it?” he asked. “You’re losing your SPLOST money, you’re losing your E-SPLOST money. We’re sending it out of the county, not keeping it in county.”

Michie Turpin is on the advisory board for the foundation and said Thursday’s outing was designed to illustrate the economic impact it can have on the surrounding area.

“It will be huge to our community – the hotels, the restaurants, the people from all over the southeast who will come to Henry County to compete in aquatic events when we get this place built,” said Turpin.

Henry County Schools Superintendent Rodney Bowler was among those in attendance for the tour. He said bringing an aquatic center to Henry County would support not only swim teams at local schools, but the community as a whole.

“This is a phenomenal recreational and health center for our community,” said Bowler. “Right now as far as the schools are concerned, we spend an exorbitant amount of time in transportation and outside-county costs in order to get our kids access to what this would offer inside the district. This is an amazing opportunity for Henry County.”

During the Georgia Tech tour, SwimAtlanta Coach and Kensley Grace Foundation Board Member Doug Gjertsen gave a rundown of facts and figures of the aquatic center at the school. Gjertsen outlined specifications for the Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech for everything from the pools themselves to seating, storage, and bathrooms.

Regarding the latter, Gjertsen said Bill Strang, chief executive officer of Toto North America, has already committed to donating $250,000 for bathrooms at the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center.

“His company is going to provide all the facilities and plumbing that are going to go into the competitive bathrooms and the spectator bathrooms,” Gjertsen told those in attendance,” said Gjertsen. “We’ll have a primo setup for spectators and for athletes.”

Amanda Weir, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist coached by Gjertsen, was also on hand for the tour at Georgia Tech. She said an aquatic center in Henry County would help fill an increasing for her fellow swimmers

“With how fast our sport is growing, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s outgrowing the existing facilities,” she said. “So, anywhere there’s a large-scale facility that can handle hosting regional and national meets, it’s super exciting. It’s great progress for our sport.”