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It was hot out, and Chesapeake Mayor Rick West wanted to take his grandkids swimming to cool off. But they had to drive all the way up to Water Country USA on the peninsula.

Chesapeake is gathering money to change that. After 50 years of community demand, the city got $9 million in state dollars to help it build a public pool in the Campostella neighborhood.

This week, Bobby Scott delivered $3 million more from the federal government. Chesapeake will have to come up with another $8 million.

When the $20 million project is finally finished, it will be the first city pool in Chesapeake.

“Drowning is a leading cause of death, particularly among young children. Hampton Roads is surrounded by water, and often experiences flooding. And so … to learn how to swim is truly lifesaving,” Scott said.

Cliff Hayes, former Chesapeake councilman and current state delegate, said he grew up in the city not knowing how to swim.

One day, as his friends were jumping into the pool at Berkeley Neighborhood Center in Norfolk, he followed them in — and almost drowned.

“Why wouldn’t we want our kids to learn how to swim?” he said.

Chesapeake is one of the top 100 largest cities in the nation — but one of only two who don’t have regulation-size public swimming facilities. Advocates from the city and in the local press have lobbied for years to open a pool.

Champions of public pools also note they can help close the racial gap in swimming ability. Black children are less likely to be able to swim and more likely to drown than white kids, in part due to financial barriers to pool access.

Cuffee Community Center has a gym, meeting space, playground and library. It already provides needed access to recreation for Campostella kids, Hayes said.

“How is it that a four-year-old, a five-year-old, or even a ten-year-old could navigate the deep ditches in a two-lane road four or five miles from here — Military Highway — to the Indian River Recreation Center? Not possible,” he said.

West said it’s going to be great having a pool on hot summer days.

“I grew up in a time where that just was not available, and so I know that this is going to be a gathering place for young people and hopefully their parents,” he said.

“I look forward to that day when we're actually opening up with a ribbon cutting and hearing the splashing.”