GAC breaks ground on aquatic center

NORCROSS - After years of practicing in rented lanes, and not being able to host meets, swimmers at Greater Atlanta Christian School will soon have a pool to call their own.

The school is starting work on a new aquatic center, complete with a wet classroom, large seating area and an 11-lane competition size swimming pool. On Thursday, parents, coaches, administrators and students celebrated the building of the new facility, which will cost more than $6 million.

Tim Vick, the school's athletic director, opened the ceremony by running up wearing an orange life preserver, swimming goggles and holding a squirt gun.

"Where is the pool? Show me the swimming pool!" Vick yelled to the cheering crowd.

An aquatics center had been in the construction plans for Greater Atlanta Christian since 1999, according to David Fincher, the president of development. It is part of a $26 million initiative in the second phase of campus planning.

"Swimming is our third largest sport in terms of number of athletes," Fincher said. "It's time to honor our students in that area."

The new natatorium will be 28,000 square feet, including seating for 300 spectators, a large pool, a wet classroom, a diving area, dressing rooms, coaches offices and a state-of-the-art scoreboard. The school plans on using it for swimming classes in addition to competitions and practices.

The groundbreaking event included several short speeches and a shovel ceremony featuring many of the swimmers. They posed by the yellow construction equipment as it handled the soil where the aquatic center will be built.

All of the students received a little red commemorative shovel and bottles of bubbles. They blew them throughout the ceremony.

"I am eternally grateful for Dr. Fincher, the board, the swim committee and swimmers past and future," Coach Karen Blackman said.

Students from the junior high, junior varsity and varsity swim teams were excited about the addition of the pool. For one thing, it will mean they have a place to display their trophies and plaques. The varsity team has won the state championship four times in the AA division.

The new aquatic center is expected to be built by early 2007. For the first time, swimmers will also be able to practice and have meets without leaving the school. In the past, they have had to practice in rented lanes in Lawrenceville, sometimes staying as late as 9:30 p.m.

"People will come watch us, and our friends will see why we spent hours in the pool," said Patricia Williams, a varsity swimmer. "We can post our records and times on the walls, like basketball does in the gym. It will expand the team, practices will be earlier, younger kids won't have to worry about being up as late."