Farmersville High School holds grand opening, ribbon cutting, dedication of the Jim A. Wiley Aquatic Center, the community’s first ever public pool
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
FARMERSVILLE – Five Farmersville High School seniors plunged into the Jim A. Wiley Aquatic Center and became the first to swim in the town’s first ever public swimming pool.
Jose Rita, Eric Trujillo, Ruby Alfaro, Anahi Vicente and Hector Menchaca jumped and flipped off the racing blocks and diving boards during the grand opening of the Farmersville High School pool. Principal Emily Koop said the five were chosen because they are part of the school’s student leadership team and, more importantly, because they know how to swim. Koop said she hopes that FHS will begin teaching kids to swim, water safety and swimming strokes in P.E. classes in the heated pool as early as January.
“Several kids said having this pool made them feel like they were a bigger high school, more professional and that they have just as many opportunities as kids going to other high schools in the area,” Koop said. “But more important for the entire community is that we have an opportunity to save lives.”
Teaching kids to swim was the primary goal of the project when the Meek family donated $1 million sixteen years ago to build the pool in honor of former Farmersville police chief and firefighter Garry Meek. The money was part of a settlement awarded by the courts following a class action lawsuit against Bridgestone / Firestone tires and Ford Motor Co. for the recall of defective tires on Ford Explorers. Garry, 56, and his 13-year-old granddaughter Amy were killed in 2000 when the tires blew out on their SUV while driving on a family vacation in Wyoming.
In August 2002, the Meek family donated the money to the Farmersville Unified School District explicitly to build a pool at the high school.
Garry’s son Bill and his sister-in-law Roseanne represented the Meek family at the grand opening and ribbon cutting. Bill said his father was a founding member of the Farmersville Swimming Pool Committee formed in 1971. It was Garry’s dream to one day have a pool where children could learn to swim as several children drowned in the creeks, ditches and canals that crisscross through town. One of those children was Bill’s friend, who drowned in Deep Creek while working on his grandfather’s ranch in high school during his father’s 20-year tenure as Farmersville’s police chief.
“He wanted kids to have as many experiences as they can, and learning to swim was a huge part of that,” Bill said. “We wanted to do the pool to allow Farmersville kids to experience new things without having to leave the community.”
The Meek family also donated the money on the condition that the pool be named after Garry’s good friend Jim Wiley. Pastor Wiley performed most of the weddings, baptisms, funerals, event invocations, and community prayers in Farmersville for more than four decades.
Wiley’s daughter, Deborah Volosin, said it was fitting that the aquatic center named after her father stood right next to the football stadium bearing Garry Meek’s name.
“Garry’s job was to keep people safe and dad’s job was to get them saved,” Volosin said.
Last year, the Farmersville City Council declared Sept. 9, 2018 as “Pastor Jim A. Wiley Day” in Farmersville in honor of his life-long commitment to ministry and the local community. The award coincided with his retirement from the church after serving as the senior pastor for Calvary Worship Center for 42 years in Farmersville and later Visalia. A few weeks later, Wiley at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Farmersville High School Aquatic Center named in his honor (Jim A. Wiley Aquatic Center). Wiley died on Feb. 6, 2019 after battles with heart and Parkinson’s diseases. He was 77 years old.
“To look up and see his name fills us with pride,” said Karen Cripps, Wiley’s other daughter.
The Meek family donation is being held with the Tulare County Treasurer’s Office where it has been growing due to interest and other donations. The account for the Jim Wiley Pool has grown to more than $1.4 million.
The more than $1 million provided the initial funding to build the $6.5 million aquatic center. The remaining $5.1 million of the pool project will be paid for by a $6 million certificate of participation (COP), or loan, to be paid back with $1.5 million in Career and Technical Education funds that would be reimbursed by the State for Farmersville’s vocational education building at the high school. The building, which includes four labs for building trades and ag technology as well as a classroom and fabrication shop, was built with funds from Measure A, a $4.8 million bond approved by Farmersville voters in November 2014.
“This pool will save lives and change lives,” said Garry’s daughter-in-law Roseanne Meek. “Our hope is that this pool will provide what pastors and police officers provide us with every day – a safe place.”
FHS Athletic Director Richard Dybas said P.E. classes are just the beginning for the pool. He said district representatives are in discussions with the City of Farmersville to develop a community based open swim program and youth swim program next summer. As a former collegiate swimmer and water polo player, the first year AD said he was looking forward to the Aztecs fielding their first swim team this spring and their first water polo team next fall. Dybas also announced that FHS will host the East Sequoia League Championship meet on May 1, 2020.
“I was able to get the league to agree to allow us to show off our new facility,” Dybas said.