It may not be much comfort after this week's heat wave, but next year residents of north-central Anne Arundel County will have access to their own watery escape.
By September 2006, they'll be able to dive into a new 26,000-square-foot public swimming complex being built in Glen Burnie: the East Park Aquatic Center.
Crews began work this month on the indoor center. The project recently got a boost when the Maryland Board of Public Works agreed to provide $1.8 million to the county to help cover the $12 million cost.
The state money came from Program Open Space, a Maryland conservancy fund aimed at preserving natural resources while providing amenities to community parks and recreational facilities.
"We've needed one for so many years," said County Executive Janet S. Owens. "I'm a great believer that swimming is one of the safest, healthiest forms of exercise."
An avid swimmer, Owens said she has long championed building a public pool in the northern half of the county.
"We know there has been a growing need for this type of recreational site," she said. "It's a great location; you can easily get on and off I-97 from it."
The center, which will boast more than 250,000 gallons of pool volume, will be located along South Crain Highway, northeast of the junction with Interstate 97.
"Pools of this magnitude are few and far between," said Matthew Bolyard, project manager for the new facility. His company, the West Virginia-based general contractor March-Westin, opened its Maryland division in Baltimore two years ago.
"Obviously this project is very important to us," he said. "We're new to the area, and this is a very competitive region, but we have a very fast-paced, demanding schedule planned, and it's our time to shine for Anne Arundel County."
Currently, the county operates only one public pool, the Arundel Olympic Swim Center on Riva Road. The new complex will be nearly twice as large, featuring a competitive lap pool with eight 25-yard lanes, a free-form leisure pool with a water slide, a three-lane lap area for swimming lessons and a spa.
The area hasn't been totally devoid of places to swim and splash.
Last year, the nonprofit Community Center in Severna Park opened a $2.3 million swim center that houses a 30-foot-by- 40-foot therapy pool along with a six-lane, 25-yard pool.
The county Department of Recreation and Parks will manage and operate the East Park center.
"Water temperature's been our biggest complaint at the Annapolis facility," said Dennis Callahan, the department's director. "Our competitive swimmers who spend hours doing laps in the pool complain the water's too hot, and our kids and senior citizens who're in it for much less time say it's too cold."
Callahan said the Glen Burnie complex will use two water tanks to rectify the issue. Competitive swimmers who generate a lot of body heat can expect cooler water in the competitive lap pool; casual, recreational swimmers will enjoy warmer waters in the leisure pool.
"I think this pool will end up just like the one on Riva Road," said Owens. "It'll fill an unmet need - I'm sure the facility will be busy from the day it opens."
County projections estimate that the new aquatic center will have more than 500,000 visitors a year. Crews are aiming to have the project finished in time for next year's indoor swimming season.