Asheville – It was a Saturday, and families were having fun at the new public swimming pool at the Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Community Center at 285 Livington Street. The City of Asheville announced its opening on August 2. Two days later, Asheville Parks and Recreation (APR) hosted a grand opening block party featuring the ribbon cutting. The pool remained open seven days a week for about a week, but, with the start of the school year around the corner, it will now be open only Saturdays and Sundays through September 3.
The pool is intended for the local community, but it is open to the general public. Admission is $3 per person, per day. The 3,275-square-foot pool is designed with a shallow family area and water park features for small kids. A larger, deeper portion for swimming and floating has basketball hoops on either end. This is not an Olympic-size pool for training; rather, it’s designed for family fun, a place to cool off and socialize.
The pool is surrounded by a deck with lounge chairs and picnic tables with umbrellas. Bathrooms and changing rooms are nearby. This phase of construction included a gym with indoor basketball and volleyball courts, meeting rooms, and an outdoor basketball court. Along with landscaping, the blueprints for this phase also called for solar panels on top of the gym. The largest solar installation on a building owned by the City of Asheville, it would provide 60% of the community center’s power needs.
Due to the abbreviated season, no swimming lessons are being offered this year. At the city’s other public pools, Swim Club Management Group offers private and group lessons. The Malvern Hills pool can also be booked for private parties.
At the Grant Center, APR has been holding water aerobics classes on Saturday mornings, and these will continue through September 2. Registration is required for the classes, which are free for senior citizens. Other activities offered at the center include bingo, wrestling classes, tai chi classes, summer camps, and youth mentoring.
The Grant Center pool is the first in the area since the closing of the Walton Street pool in 2021. An assessment of the Walton Street pool conducted in 2016 detected “major leaks and failing underground pipes” and estimated repairs at $1.3 million. Last year, the city awarded the Walton Street pool, along with the surrounding park, local historic landmark designation.
After the closing of the Walton Street pool, kids swam at the local YMCA, with the city providing bus transportation. The neighbors found that an unsatisfactory arrangement, expressing a desire for a pool with more deck space for community building. So, the new pool came as an amendment to the design contract for the center. As ground was broken last year, the expansion phase’s cost was only estimated to be $6.7 million, but it ended up being $8.3 million.
The city was about to award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder, Elford, Inc., but concerns were raised by city councilmembers about certain design elements and a lack of community input. The bid was allowed to expire while the city verified that the design elements were in order and sufficient community input had been collected. Notably, public comments from the January 31, 2017 meeting were full of suspicion, if not expectation, that the city was using the pool to somehow disadvantage the community again. In a second round, Harper General Contractors submitted the winning bid.
The first phase of construction on the design by local architect Jane Mathews began in 2010. Mathews incorporated features requested at an initial round of community input meetings hosted by APR. The design called for an auditorium, classrooms, and parking spaces.
The structure was Asheville’s first city-owned building to be LEED-certified, and it received a Platinum designation. It was also one of the first buildings with a butterfly roof in the area. The roof channels water into sediment ponds, rooftop gardens, and cisterns. Other green features included geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient windows, and energy-efficient insulation. Materials were sourced locally, and over 75% of construction waste was diverted from the landfill.
The community center was named by city council after great pain. Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr., was a local activist during the civil rights era. As if that weren’t enough, others wanted to include “Southside” in the name because it was the unofficial designation for the neighborhood. At the time, City Councilman Jan Davis accurately predicted that no matter how extensive and inclusive the official name would be, people were going to shorten it to something like “the Grant Center.”