Henry approves aquatic center at twice the anticipated cost

Henry County will spend $50.2 million on an aquatic center.

Henry County will spend $50.2 million on an aquatic center.

Henry County has approved the construction of its first-ever aquatic center, but it will cost more than twice the amount projected when the project was originally conceived.

In a 5-1 vote, the Henry County Commission on Tuesday approved funding for a $50.2 million aquatic facility, far above the $22 million cost leaders of the south metro Atlanta community originally projected just two years ago.

County officials blamed the increase on inflation and the higher cost of materials as demand has outstripped supplies.

“The bottom line is this is a SPLOST project that was voted on by the citizens of Henry County,” Commissioner said Kevin Lewis, who voted in favor of the project. “We are going to be a board that completes projects. We are going to be a board that executes what our citizens want.”

The proposed facility could include a 50-meter competition pool, lazy river, artificial wave pool and children’s splash playground, according to a 2022 presentation of the project to the commission. Other amenities could include food trucks, therapeutics recreation pool and rooftop terrace for meeting space.

About $31 million of the funding will come from funds already collected through SPLOST V, which was approved for the project by voters in 2019, county leaders said Tuesday.

County officials did not say directly how they intend to fund the rest of the remaining $21 million, but suggested SPLOST funding has been robust and may more than cover the costs.

“The state does allow us to, because of cost overruns, to not only collect during our period, but to collect over the amount that we originally projected,” Henry County Director of Finance David Smith said.

Commissioner Johnny Wilson, who voted against the funding, was less sanguine about the aquatic center cost increase. He said he was concerned that funding for transportation and public safety could be impacted by spending almost 104% more than originally planned on the aquatic facility.

“That’s what we hear every day: ‘Let’s improve our public safety and what are we going to do about transportation,’” Wilson said.

If projects in those categories — which are now forecast to cost close to $66 million — increase in expense as much as the aquatic center has, Henry could find itself in a bind, especially if the economy turns sour, he said. It would be more fiscally responsible to address the county’s transportation and public safety needs and put the aquatic center on hold until its costs align with original projections, he said.

“We can go back and revisit the $22 million aquatic center later,” he said.