What started out as a blueprint for a separate aquatic and multipurpose center has now merged into one plan for the community of Pine Bluff.

“We’re not going to do the second facility,” said City of Pine Bluff Finance Director, Steve Miller, of the proposed stand-alone multipurpose center. “Mayor Washington has a plan to do an aquatic center that is going to be a multi-facility and serve both purposes.”

The decision to combine the aquatic and multipurpose center came as a result of reviewing what the city already had to offer its residents, according to Mayor Shirley Washington.

“We started looking at what we actually needed in the community, because we realized that we would have to make some adjustments,” Washington said. “We talked to citizens and we looked at what we had in our community and the basic needs…”

The original design of the multipurpose center included two different size gymnasiums; an amenity Washington says Pine Bluff already had an abundance of in various centers in the area.

“We just spotted gyms that could be used for youth activities throughout the city,” said Washington. “So, we decided we’d put our focus on what we didn’t have and that was the aquatics. So, instead of building a 25-yard competition pool, we decided we’d keep our fundraising going and put all of the fundraising on the aquatic center and do it as aquatic/multipurpose center.”

Money was also an issue in the city’s choice to combine both centers. Back in February of 2011, voters approved a bond issue and a five-eighths-of-a-cent sales tax for what was originally defined as a multipurpose center through a special election. The collection from that sales tax amounted to $4 million dollars with additional funds for operating costs Miller says.

“We had $400,000 a year of operating cost money set aside from the tax towards that facility,” said Miller. “It was planned to be constructed for $11.5 million, but again, we had $4 million of construction in the tax and the plan was that we would need to raise $7.5 million in grant funds and other sources.”

Crafton Tull, the professional design firm, the city partnered with to complete the project initially gave an estimate of $6.5 million for the design of the aquatic center. But, Washington says by the time she took office, the price went up to $7.8 million causing them to be in need of more funds to break ground on both projects.

“If we could’ve built the building (aquatics center) for the $6.5 million, we would’ve just been fundraising for the multipurpose center,” Washington said. “But, as it turned out, it was going to be the multipurpose center and the additional (money) that would be needed for the aquatics center after inflation set in.”

With the multipurpose center left unfunded as far as construction and operating costs coupled with inflation from the initial estimate of the aquatics center, the city hired Catherine Johnson and Associates to assist them with fundraising. The company’s campaign started on Jan 1. of last year and ends on Dec. 31 with no plans to renew their contract per Washington. However, the city does intend on continuing their fundraising efforts for the center. As of now, the city has $10.5 million to go towards the completion of the newly designed two-in-one aquatic and multipurpose center.

“We’re still working with Crafton Tull on the design,” said Washington adding that they are ready to break ground once it’s finalized.

The city has applied for two grants related to the center and they are waiting to apply for a third. Washington says they weren’t approved for a federal grant to receive funds that would’ve allowed them to build a Federal Emergency Management Agency Safe Room on the side of the center. She says due to the recent devastation in other states caused by hurricanes and flooding those areas were in greater need of federal assistance. Even though Pine Bluff wasn’t approved for the FEMA grant on the federal level, Washington says they plan to apply on the state level which would give them the opportunity to get the first and only safe room in Jefferson County. She also hopes to secure additional funds to add to the beautification of the center.

“We applied for an Arkansas Parks and Tourism grant and that’s a $500,000 grant,” said Washington adding that money would go towards enhancing the outside of the facility. “So, we submitted that grant and we’re hoping we get a favorable response sometime soon.”

Washington says they are expected to break ground on the center in early 2018.