Launch Slideshow

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NORTH COUNTY AQUATICS CENTER | SEBASTIAN, FLA.

NORTH COUNTY AQUATICS CENTER | SEBASTIAN, FLA.

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Bigger isn’t always better. Case in point: the ambitious North County Aquatics Center. Working against budget cuts and hiring freezes, the facility’s amenities are modest, but its goals large.

Located on central Florida’s east coast, Sebastian, like many communities in the state, is facing tough economic times. The facility has had to work with a budget slashed 15 percent by the county and state, and operate during a hiring freeze that only broke a month before this past summer season.

The 5-year-old center boasts a competition pool, a zero-depth leisure pool, water cannons, bubblers, a water tree, two water slides and a water playground. Open year ’round, it can count among its accomplishments the hosting of the 2003 Florida High School Swimming and Diving Finals, which brought more than 3,000 swimmers, divers and their families to the park. More recently, North County hosted the Florida Special Olympics state swim meet for the third year.

The center’s events and classes have attracted big numbers: Learn-to-swim classes have drawn more than 3,600 participants; competitive swimming events have brought in 6,400-plus spectators; and attendance at the Aquanautics aerobics class leaped 90 percent compared with last year.

Because many of Sebastian’s residents are retirees, the facility has created classes and events that cater to their needs as well.

Operators are hoping that once the Florida economy — which was hit hard by the real estate downturn — improves, the center’s attendance will grow even more. Meanwhile, memberships remain reasonable, with an annual fee of $120 per individual.

Once the budget reverts back to normal levels, North County wants to add a lazy river and even a surf machine to its list of amenities.

Now, if it can get some seniors surfing, that may well be its biggest achievement. — Neal Broverman