Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

TOP STORY>> Aquatic center grand opening delayed one week

Leader staff writer

The opening of Jacksonville’s $2.5 million aquatic park has been delayed a week.

The original Memorial Day weekend opening has been shifted to noon, Saturday, June 4.

The main reason? No slides yet.

“They’re in transport,” said Annabelle Davis, with the Parks and Recreation Department. “Besides that, we’ve got just some bits and pieces yet to do.”

The infrastructure for the slides is in, so it won’t take long to install them. The aquatic manager, Dianne Novotny, said, “The baby pool looks great, the lap pool water is still a little cloudy, but everything is just about ready to go, except the slides.”

The ribbon cutting for the three-pool facility, located on Martin and First streets, will be at 4 p.m., Friday, June 3, followed by an open house until 6 p.m. “there’ll be no swimming during the open house, but it’ll give residents a chance to tour the facility,” Davis said.

Fees for the new water park are higher than those for the community center pool, but the hours of availability and variety of activities are so much greater, according to Novotny.

Daily fees will be $4 for anyone over the age of two. A 20-visit pass will be available for $60. An individual season pass will be $75, while a family pass (up to four members) will be $150.

To use the plunge pool, which contains the slides, will cost an extra $1 a day. Visitors must be at least 48 inches or taller to use the slides. Groundbreaking for the three-pool aquatic park was July 6, 2003. The water park replaces the Martin Street pool, which slowly became a health and safety hazard after about 30 years of use.

The exterior work was substantially completed earlier this year and the crews have been focusing on interior work and final touches since.

Some of that final touch work was the reason the lap pool water was cloudy Monday. It was caused by water run off from some of the construction work.

With the construction, residents only had use of the indoor pool at the community center, and based on end of the year reports, the pool stayed busy in 2004.

Pool parties at the community center were up 10 percent, and pool party revenue was up 20 percent.

Swim lessons were so popular that more instructors were added to keep up with the demand, according to Novotny. Overall, there was a 60 percent increase in the number of participants.

Three swim teams use the Community Center pool for practice and meets: The Arkansas Dolphins, the Cabot Piranhas and the Jacksonville High School swim team.

Some of that activity will paddle over to the new park when it opens.

Davis expects the new park will become a popular recreation destination for residents and visitors from the surrounding area.

The facility will feature a three-foot-deep plunge pool with water slides and zero-depth entrance; a two-foot-deep play pool complete with shade areas, play structures, a “rain shower” area; also, a deeper diving and swimming pool with painted lanes, hydrotherapy seating and ramp access.

Other site features will include an entry area, shaded party area, a concession stand with tables, offices and a lifeguard training and rest area.

The $2.6 million park is funded in part by a voter approved one-cent sales tax increase.

That will also help fund construction of a $14 million joint education center with the Air Force, moving college level courses currently offered on base to the off base facility. The city has pledged $5 million, with the Air Force awaiting funding for the rest through Congress. The tax will also fund a $2 million fire and police training center to be located on part of the former Vertac site.

Getting the project started was more difficult than getting voter approval for the tax increase. An original cost estimate of $2.1 million for the park turned out to be more than 20 percent below the low construction bid of $2.78 million due to increases in the cost of steel among other issues.

The city’s parks commission then whittled some amenities off the project, bringing the price tag down to $2.6 million.

From there, a court ruling on an unrelated tax case unlocked thousands of dollars for cities in Pulaski County, including Jacksonville, which covered the rest of the project’s cost.