Henrico leaders tour new NOVA Aquatics Center at Regency

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 11:56 AM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - With the new NOVA Aquatics Center at Regency expected to open in the coming weeks, Henrico County leaders are getting their first look at the facility.

In March 2019, county leaders announced plans to replace the former Macy’s with an $18 million swimming facility featuring an eight-lane 50-meter pool and two three-lane 25-yard pools.

“Swimming is becoming more popular nationwide,” NOVA of Virginia Aquatics Executive Director Ann McGee, said. “It’s now the fourth most popular sport in the country. I think that this is a swimming community between the many swim clubs here and the number of kids who compete, who swim in their summer league programs, and now in schools.”

The project is a private-public partnership between the County, NOVA Swimming and Regency Square. Demolition started on the project in March 2020.

Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon calling this facility a perfect example of how public-private partnerships should work.

“Henrico wanted to make sure this was successful, so we cut red tape, made sure the engineering was done properly and you end up with a great cooperative effort,” she said.

While there is still some work to do, county leaders are already impressed by what they see.

“The last time I was in this building it looked a lot like an old department store so to see the pools here, it’s amazing,” said Henrico Schools Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.

Earlier this week the three pools were plastered and filled with water.

“A 50-meter pool; it will be the second one in Richmond,” McGee said. “It means that we’ll have much more capacity for our swimmers, for lessons.”

“[It’s an] Olympic size pool and training for those who have aspirations at the regional and international level,” said Lori Haas, Rio Olympian Townley Haas’ mother.

Haas knows all about those aspirations. Her son Townley is in Tokyo right now preparing for the Olympics.

However, Haas said growing up Townley trained in a short course yard pool, nothing like what the new facility has.

“He was lucky and able to translate that into a 50m experience and competition, but it will really improve the opportunities for those going after bigger fish,” Haas said.

The facility also hoping to expand regional sports tourism. Several permanent bleachers will be installed on the main level to hold up to 850 people.

However, NOVA Aquatics has far greater plans to increase attendance. Phase 2 of construction will include mezzanine seating for 2,000 spectators, making it one of the largest swim venues in the U.S., according to the club.

Phase 2 of construction work at NOVA Aquatics Center at Regency includes mezzanine seating for...
Phase 2 of construction work at NOVA Aquatics Center at Regency includes mezzanine seating for roughly 2,000 spectators.(NBC12)

Fundraising is already underway for phase 2; this portion focused on corporate donations.

Despite being able to host meets at the facility, it will also go beyond competitions.

“We wanted to make sure that all children in second and third grade are drown-proof,” O’Bannon said.

Henrico County Public Schools teamed up with NOVA Aquatics to teach 2nd graders how to swim.

“During the school day, like a field trip if you will, [students will] come to the pool and learn to swim with an instructor,” Cashwell said. “It would be held over a series of days for a short period of their school day.”

Some students have already participated in the pilot “learn to swim” program at other facilities. Those students helped school leaders target what age group should receive the lessons.

“Making sure that developing mentally in their school experience they have some exposure to water with trained instructors and actually have the opportunity to learn those critical swimming skills early in their elementary career was something we thought was really important,” Cashwell said.

Meanwhile, the facility also brings a renewed experience at Regency. Several construction projects are underway on mall property to improve the community atmosphere.

“This is really our prized possession at Regency,” said Rob Hargett, partner with The Rebkee Company, who owns the property. “It really is the beginning of our community, having the folks come here, the children [learning] to swim is going to be what we’re all about - live, work, play.”

NOVA also points out that the community will be able to take advantage of the new pools. The organization expects to offer adult fitness classes, lessons and swimming for people with disabilities.

The facility is expected to open in early August.

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