A Healthy Paducah meeting Monday centered on the City of Paducah’s proposed recreation and aquatic center, with Mayor Brandi Harless discussing the project and its aims.

The group — a coalition of community health care providers, social services, businesses, faith-based organizations and concerned citizens — was, as a whole, receptive toward the planned facility because it fits within their goal: “to work together as a coalition to support each other and help move the needle so that our neighbors get healthy, stay healthy and continue to enjoy evidence-based practices that keep people moving forward in their lifestyles of activity, health and productivity,” said Mike Muscarella, the group’s chair.

Discussion during the meeting varied from types of community partnerships and programming that could be possible at the facility to different possible amenities and ways to aid the project financially.

Though the design phase is paused, currently the facility’s planned amenities include a 10-lane swimming pool, a warm water therapy pool, an indoor basketball court, a walking track, a climbing structure and several community spaces spread out through a 70,000-square-foot structure. The estimated cost for the project — and the amount bonded by the city for the project in January — is $20 million.

The pause, Harless said, was for two reasons: (1) “that we better understood how COVID was going to impact the city government’s budget and that we didn’t move forward with a project that we couldn’t afford” and (2) “so that we could get a little bit of a better grasp on what needs to happen in this facility for our community to get excited about it.”

Further advancement of the project could be jeopardized by the outcome of the mayoral race — from which Harless was eliminated when the primary results were announced Monday afternoon.

For more about the proposed building, visit www.paducahky.gov/indoor-recreation-and-aquatic-center.

While no new information about the project was announced during the meeting, the mayor took the chance to both update the health community and get their feedback on the city’s plan.

“To serve my community from a health perspective has been at the forefront of my mind since I moved home … and so, as mayor, it’s been really important to me that I bring a public health perspective to this table,” Harless said, elaborating on her background in the field by speaking about her time as the director of the St. Nicholas Family Clinic.

“About midway through my time as director two really important things happened, the Affordable Care Act started taking place and also the Impact Poverty Task Force was wrapping up its recommendation locally with the United Way,” she said, noting that one of the suggested focus areas for Paducah was health. “The (task force’s) recommendation was that we needed to see about recruiting a community health center here in Paducah.”

The idea of an indoor recreation facility has come up, Harless said, multiple times in Paducah’s government halls over the past six decades, starting in 1960 and then again in 2002 and 2012.

“This community wellness center is really meant to be … another place where we can come together, get to know one another and have those random interactions with our neighbors in our community that we wouldn’t otherwise get,” the mayor explained, comparing the proposed facility to the local library. “For me the most important piece of this is the creation of the culture of health. That to me is the piece in our community that will make the longest, deepest impact.”

Harless hopes that, should this facility get built, it will become a symbol of that commitment to healthy living by the city.

“We’ve got a long way to go in our community before we have a true culture of health and I believe that one of the ways that we do that is to create these facilities where people feel welcome, they feel that its theirs and that they can go there and that they are able to see people that they know go there,” she said. “(This could be) a space for the culture to be developed.”

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