Ozark – Ozark Community Pool
What good is a pool if you can’t swim in it? That was the problem the city of Ozark faced when a new community pool couldn’t open without specially trained lifeguards.
The Ozark Community Pool was the brainchild of Mayor Bob Bunting, who came out of retirement to run for office on the promise of building such a facility for the community. Bunting had a personal reason for wanting a place in Ozark for children to learn to swim. In 1989, an Ozark High School football star seemed destined to play for the Crimson Tide until he was in a car accident that left the car and the passengers submerged in a pond. While the other passengers swam to safety, the promising young athlete drowned because he didn’t know how to swim. This tragedy stuck with Bunting all throughout his first tenure as Mayor from 1996 to 2008.
Ozark elected Bunting again in 2016 on the promise of the aquatic center. He hit the ground running, rolling up his sleeves and working to raise money to fund the effort. Some 521 personal letters later, he had raised a significant portion of the needed funds. The Wiregrass Foundation pitched in, as did the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The result was a beautiful new community pool and aquatics center. He was able to raise the extra funds required to make the community pool a competitive-sized pool that local schools could use for swim teams.
There was only one problem: Deep-water lifeguards were required.
“We found there are a lot of shallow-water lifeguards out there, but we’ve had to find and train deep-water lifeguards,” Bunting said.
Thanks to the ingenuity of Lonnie Groomes, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Ozark, they were able to open the first year by recruiting deep-water lifeguards from nearby Fort Rucker.
To be ready for the next full season, the city needed to find more lifeguards and additional resources to provide the proper training and safety courses. It was then the Alabama Power Foundation stepped in.
Thanks to a grant from the foundation, Ozark is running water safety courses and training lifeguards for the facility. Bunting is thrilled.
“The grant will cover anything related to the training of the lifeguards. So we’ll have uniforms for them, an adult mannequin, a child mannequin, manuals…a belt for each lifeguard,” Bunting said.
Being able to use the pool is only part of Bunting’s vision. “I want to make sure that every child in Ozark knows how to swim,” Bunting said.
“We’re looking at starting in the third or fourth grade. Every year, for example, we’ll teach all of the fourth graders to swim. Over a period of time, every child who goes through our school system will know how.”
Courtney Ganz, Ozark’s new aquatic director, is tasked with developing the pool programs. “We’re just ramping up, trying to get all of our programming started,” she said. “That’s what’s making this different. Ozark had a pool at one time, oh, about 10 years ago, but we wanted something that offered more services to the community.”
Now, as the city of Ozark prepares for a busy season at the pool, the list of available classes and activities continues to grow. The new facility will offer lap swim times for people to stay in shape, aquacise classes for seniors to stay mobile and swimming lessons for people of all ages. Most importantly, the new facility serves as a reminder of what can happen when a community comes together for good.