4-H Camp Palmer pool makes big splash

Cutting the ribbon at the 4-H Camp Palmer pool opening were (from left) Jill Stechshulte, 4-H education and Fulton County Extension director; Neere Emmons, president of the Fulton County Dairy Association; Lisa Onweller, executor of the Helen Sell Estate bequest; and Jack Brace, president of the Bryan Area Foundation.

Visitors to 4-H Camp Palmer near Fayette play volleyball in the campground’s new $500,000 swimming pool, which opened May 31.

Michala Baker takes a leisurely swim in 4-H Camp Palmer’s new pool.

The swimming pool had withstood the water play of 4-H Camp Palmer kids since 1957. But it had fallen on hard times.

Each year, several thousand dollars were spent to seal deck cracks and repair other damage to the crumbling concrete foundation, hopefully for at least another summer season. Water had to be replaced daily, and cleaning chemicals reapplied.

During a February 2013 meeting, the camp board of directors was again debating whether money was available for a replacement pool. The members worried their campers might have no choice but to resume swimming at Harrison Lake State Park, like in the olden days.

“We literally didn’t know the last few summers if we were even going to be able to operate our old pool. We just made it through the last few summers,” said Bill Goodson, 4-H Camp Palmer’s executive director since 2008.

Their questions about funding were answered during that session. They received word of a $55,672 bequest from the estate of Helen Sell.

“The board voted, let’s do it. It was an exciting day,” Goodson said.

Now two years later, with the help of Sell and hundreds of other donors, a $500,000 Olympic-size pool was opened May 31 to fanfare and lots of splashing. With state-of-the-art stainless steel construction, and held together with 10,000 welds placed by a master welder, the 75-foot by 42-foot pool is expected to last another 50 years.

Built by Patterson Pools of Columbus, it includes such amenities as a spray-play feature, a volleyball net, a basketball hoop, and a recreational rolling log. Goodson said the pool is maintained with high safety standards. It has a lift compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and steps leading in, a feature absent in the former model.

A Phase Two project scheduled within two years would add a $46,000 water slide.

The original pool was built 10 years after 4-H Camp Palmer was established at 26450 County Road MN in 1947. The pool was constructed, in part, to allay fears of children contracting polio by swimming in the waters at Harrison Lake. Goodson said protecting their campers is still a priority.

“We like to see the bottom of that pool. It’s the safest way to operate,” he said.

A modern pool had been on the drawing board for about 20 years, but was more seriously considered during the past decade as the old pool continued to deteriorate. With the assistance of several large donations, including Sell’s and those of the Fulton County Dairy Association and the Bryan Area Foundation, the project was underway.

The old pool was demolished last September; a month later, construction on the new model began, and lasted over the winter months. The new version–which, at approximately 3.5 feet up to 4.5 feet deep, is more kid-friendly–passed state inspection two days before the grand opening.

Thus far, about $330,000–68 percent of the total cost–has been raised through grants, about 10 area foundations, and countless donors. The project was also supported by campaigns like 4-H’s “Pennies For The Pool,” and memorial bricks purchased for $100 and $250 that have raised $20,000.

An affiliate of the OSU Extension, 4-H Camp Palmer is a non-profit organization that relies on fundraising efforts.

“We’re extremely thankful to our hundreds of donors who have made this project a reality,” Goodson said.

If funding campaign totals aren’t met, the board of directors has acquired a 10-year contingency loan as back-up.

To raise additional funds, the camp will likely host several community open swim events this year, and will rent the pool for company recreational events.

And there’s still time, Goodson said, to name the pool after a donor willing to contribute $200,000.

The new pool is a source of pride for the campground, which welcomes about 2,000 children each summer, and about 6,000 year-round for activities like band camp. The facility is owned and shared by 4-H organizations from 11 northwest Ohio counties.

Goodson said up to 200 children use the pool daily. When nights are warm, it’s opened under bright lights.

Chuck Wurth, the camp’s longtime program coordinator, recalled that the old pool “lost water like a sieve. It was pathetic.” He called the new model “an incredibly fantastic improvement.”

The original pool had an “icky” factor, said Jill Stechschulte, an OSU Extension educator who leads 4-H Youth Development. She said as the concrete continued crumbling over any given summer “we could never make (the pool) look clean.”

In order to speed along the fundraising process for the new pool, Stechschulte is offering “Splash for Cash.” For a sizable donation she will dive fully-clothed into the water, even honoring reasonable and appropriate silly conditions during the stunt.

“I ask people to challenge me,” she said. “Be creative. My goal is no pool loan.”