MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — In between status updates, posting pictures and declining Farmville invitations, Berkeley County resident James Miller found another use for Facebook — sparking a community movement.
Last Sunday, Miller, the swim coach for Spring Mills High School, created the Facebook page "Indoor Pool for Berkeley County, WV," describing his desire for a community indoor pool facility. Not surprised when the initial response were two "likes," his sister and a former swimmer, Miller was shocked when less than nine hours later he had more than 800 likes to the page and a multitude of comments and posts.
Now, the page has more than 2,500 likes and an active dialogue on ideas, money sources, support and even some complaints.
"Obviously there was some sort of desire from the community that I didn't anticipate. I just thought this was going to be friends of mine and my swim (students') parents. I never imagined that this would escalate and get the views that it has," Miller said.
The idea for an indoor pool facility began as a desire to provide a better swim facility for his students, but quickly realized the community benefits such a facility would provide in addition to recreation.
"There's lots of benefits from this, like lessons so you can be able to swim. I know West Virginia has a high obesity rate, so this is something that would be good not just in this county, but if the Eastern Panhandle is proactive and has something like this that would help fight obesity, the rest of the state could follow the Berkeley County model," Miller said.
"Also, it's great for the elderly. Swimming is the best recovery exercise you can do," he added.
While the drive behind the idea of an indoor pool facility is recent, the concept is not new to Berkeley County.
In the 1990s, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation was interested in converting the pool at War Memorial Park to an indoor pool, said Executive Director Steve Catlett.
"When we tried to replace the outdoor pool there, we proposed trying to get the government to enclose it at the time, but they could only designate enough money to rebuild it," Catlett said.
Miller's idea includes an eight-lane, multipurpose pool. Four lanes could be dedicated to school swim teams and four lanes dedicated to community use, allowing for longer swim hours. Miller has no estimate of how much an indoor pool facility would cost or a potential location for the facility.
But Catlett estimates the cost for a multipurpose pool like Miller is proposing to be around $20 million.
"It has been discussed and (Parks and Rec) obviously acknowledge that it's something the community needs, but it is one that is going to require a tremendous amount of financial costs, not only to build and maintain, but to keep funded until it becomes self-sustaining," Catlett said.
Emphasizing that the campaign is only in the brainstorming phase, Miller said the next step is to call on the Facebook page supporters for guidance and volunteerism, looking for individuals with grant writing skills, government and business connections and knowledge and fundraising ideas to form a committee.
"I'm not even asking for money, I'm asking for where I can get it. It's 'where can I go, who can help me get these things?' I'm just looking for help to make this more of a community venture than just one man," Miller said.
Miller hopes to create a community dialogue, not only with residents, but also local government, businesses and Eastern Panhandle legislators. Miller has been in talks with other indoor pool programs in the Tri-State on creating and maintaining a fiscally successful program.
"If it's going to become a reality, it would have to include many different agencies and organizations and departments like the city (of Martinsburg), county, the school board. It would almost have to be authority-created in order to have this done, and of course building it is one issue and identifying funding once it's open is another," Catlett said.
Catlett added that even if it were built, it is unrealistic to think the facility would be able to be self-sustaining during its first year, so additional money would need to be identified to fund the program until it is self-sustaining.
Miller acknowledges that the campaign will be a long-term endeavor, but he believes with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the community, an indoor pool facility can be realized.
"This is just the beginning. Even if someone were to hand me money tomorrow and say 'build,' it's still going to take three or four years," Miller said.
Miller encourages community members to contact him through the Facebook page or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/