Circle Square Foundation Aquatics, Inc., which is building a $10 million natatorium, will lease Newton A. Perry Aquatic Center so that Ocala Aquatics, Inc., high schools and other groups will have a place to swim until the new complex is built.

The College of Central Florida and a local foundation have reached terms on a new lease agreement that will keep the Newton A. Perry Aquatic Center open through at least 2020.


That means that Ocala Aquatics Inc., which has leased the CF pool for two decades, will not have to vacate the property at the end of this month. The complex is home to high school swimming and the Ocala Marlins swim teams. It is also used for swimming lessons and fire rescue training.


The current pool complex, known as the Newton A. Perry Aquatic Center, is owned by CF and is not used for any academic programs. CF President Jim Henningsen sent Ocala Aquatics a letter in July reminding the group that its lease expires on Dec. 31 and that the aging pool complex, which is nearly 40 years old, will be closed.


The CF board of trustees had approved filling in the pool in January and turning the building into a wellness center in the spring.


But that changed two months ago when the Circle Square Foundation committed to building a $10 million natatorium, an indoor competitive swimming venue.


The venue will be located on the south side of Southwest 38th Street, about a mile west of Southwest 60th Avenue and south of Ocala International Airport. The venue will be about two miles east of West Port High School.


Now that the Circle Square Foundation plans to build a new complex, the problem was that it will not be completed until spring or summer 2022. That is more than two years after Ocala Aquatics’ lease was set to expire.


Henningsen received a letter from On Top of the World developer Ken Colen two months ago about the plan, asking CF officials to extend the pool lease. Henningsen met with Colen and Circle Square Foundation Executive Director Rebecca Rogers to discuss the plan to save swim programs.


The CF board of trustees on Wednesday approved the one-year lease, which is good through 2020. There is an option for a second year of the lease in 2021, if both parties agree. After that, there is a provision for a month-to-month lease into 2022 until the new indoor swimming venue is completed.


Colen said after the meeting that the foundation stepped up because of its belief that Marion County needs a strong aquatics program.


"We are building a very large natarorium," Colen said.


The facility will have a 50x25 meter pool (3 meters deep) with 10 lanes and a dive well. Outside the facility there will be a 25-yard outdoor warm-up pool under cover and "probably a recreational pool."


Colen said the idea is that the recreational pool will be available for children who are too young to compete. Colen said the hope is to bring statewide swimming events to the Ocala area that will boost the area economy.


In related news, the County Commission on Tuesday gave the green light to still explore a county recreational water park, despite Circle Square Foundation’s decision to build a competitive aquatics complex.


The county has been working for the past two years on a plan to build an aquatic complex equipped with a competitive pool and an adjoining recreation water park.


Jim Couillard, Marion’s parks and recreation director, told the commission on Tuesday that a recreational water park is needed for a community that will see significant tourism growth in the next decade.


"We still believe a recreational aquatic park will be a tremendous asset to our community," Couillard said. "By creating modest, self-sufficient water park, we can fill the gap that was left by Wild Waters."


Commissioners agreed to spend $8,750 to update a recent study to see if a county-operated recreational venue would still be viable.


Commissioner Carl Zalak agreed to spend the money for an updated study. However, he believes the park might be better located along Interstate 75.


The county is still negotiating with the state to lease Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway property, next to the Ocala Rotary Sportsplex off Maricamp Road, for the project.


Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant said that "unless it (an aquatic park) supports itself, I don’t think this board will approve it."


— Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.