It's damp and chilly outside, but tropical in the natatorium at the Panther Valley High School, where a small group of people bob and float in the large swimming pool.

Once teetering on the edge of closure, the pool has found new life as the site of Water Wellness, a business that provides water exercise classes, swim lessons, personal/sport training, and pool parties.

"We have this community pool, and we have had tremendous response," co-owner Maria Zupko said. "It's been so exciting to watch all these programs go into place and people getting such enjoyment out of it. They are not only getting the physical benefits that we have set up the different types of classes for – everything from water aerobics to range-of-motion types of stretching classes but we also see people getting the emotional and social impact of this.

"This is an exciting venture, and we expect much more tremendous growth," she said.

The school board, which had been moving toward closing the pool in light of budget shortfalls, instead on Oct. 13 signed a $69,500 contract with Water Wellness to keep it open, albeit as a private enterprise.

Water Wellness is the latest of several businesses to open in the Panther Valley, said Mark Sverchek, president of the community improvement group Lansford Alive.

"The Water Wellness group is now operating the Panther Valley swimming pool. They have many members who come daily and weekly for water aerobics and swimming lessons. It's a great thing for the community and for the school district to have the pool open," he said.

Water Wellness opened its doors, behind the high school along Route 209 between Lansford and Nesquehoning, the first week of January. An average of 50-60 people use the pool each week, Zupko said.

Former Panther Valley School director Bill Richards, who is now a representative for Sen. John Yudichak, was happy to see the pool open.

"In the early 2000s, the pool had been closed and used for storage. Seeing this today is a pleasure," he said. "It was heartbreaking when it closed again, and now we see all these people are here to utilize it. That's what we envisioned years ago, for everyone to use it."

One of those people eager to take a dip is Margaret Miller of Tamaqua.

"I'm going to try to do as much as I can," she said. "I need to get my back in shape again. I'm going for my back and neck, my whole body."

Water Wellness can be reached at (570) 645-9283, or at waterwellness@windstream.net [1].