The City of Garden City’s Thursday night public information session about the Big Pool moved slowly, or at least at first.

The dozen residents present had countless questions, and the presentation’s opening was “very rough and very long,” said Assistant City Manager Jennifer Cunningham, who for weeks has spearheaded the city’s comprehensive community input process about the future of the Garden City landmark. But two hours later, after answered questions, righted misconceptions and candid conversation, the mood changed.

People were more open to compromise, to options and to what may come next.

“I really haven’t had anybody that has said ‘We can’t take out the Big Pool.’ When they listen and they really consider the options, and they really consider where we are, I haven’t really been met with anybody that said ‘No, let’s not do it,’” Cunningham said.

Faced with a nearly 100-year-old facility that loses more than 200,000 gallons of water a day when filled, attracts an average of 330 daily attendees and costs the city nearly $700,000 more than it brings in, the Garden City Commission approved a plan to ask residents via school visits, public sessions, surveys and more, what they want to do with the Big Pool or other public water recreation projects.

The Big Pool, as it stands now, still will be open for the 2019 summer season. But come April, the city will approve and move forward on something new based on what residents say.

Tuesday, after spending weeks visiting every school in Garden City and high schools in Holcomb, Cimarron, Lakin and Deerfield, Cunningham presented preliminary student survey data, now available on the city website, to city commissioners. More than 3,000 students in third to 12th grade answered the survey as of Feb. 1.

Attendance at the pool directly correlated with the age of the child, Cunningham told commissioners — once students entered high school, they said they were far less likely to come. In general, students said they wanted big slides, concession stands and large, inflatable courses and were less enthusiastic about splash parks, competition lanes or an enclosed pool.

Older students tended to want the city to build something different, while younger students, a little more driven by emotion, tended to want a facility similar to the Big Pool, Cunningham said. In the comments, many students asked for projects that had nothing to do with water — arcades and skating rinks and laser tag arenas. More than 230 asked for a lazy river, Cunningham said.

But that wasn’t all they cared about.

“The sole, the main function that every kid hit on was not a feature of the Big Pool. It wasn’t about the slides. It wasn’t about the water. It wasn’t about the facility itself. It was ‘I want a place to go and hang out with my friends,’” Cunningham said.

As she’s moved through community and stakeholder meetings, the responses have hinged on priorities, she said.

Students on the Garden City High School swim team are passionate about an indoor competition pool that would allow them to be more competitive during the winter season. Adults who grew up around the Big Pool lean towards something similar to the historic facility, but maybe with some updated features and a few city splash parks. Others care about access — what can the city do to make the pool something families from all economic backgrounds can use?

And others have suggested ideas city staff had never even considered, Cunningham said. The city pool presentation focuses on a handful of mix-and-match options that can be customized to Garden City: one large pool or multiple smaller pools with slides, competition lanes and a kids area; smaller, standard community pools or splash parks in existing city parks; or a larger water park.

On top of that, residents have mentioned surfing stations, or a competition pool that can be turned into an indoor facility with a cover during the winter, or a pool with big slides and a kids’ area surrounded by a lazy river.

Community and student surveys will be open on the city’s website until the end of February. Cunningham will present a final community input report to Garden City commissioners during the 11 a.m. pre-meeting on March 19 in the second-floor conference room in the City Administrative Building. The meeting is open to the public. In April, the commission will vote on a plan for a new project.

At the public session Thursday, there was a farmer, a past pool employee, parents and students. Some came because of nostalgia — they wanted to keep the pool the same. One woman was worried the pool was going to close completely. Another just wanted to hear the city’s options.

Coming out of the meeting, several moms said they thought the city had good ideas and that residents need to let the city know what they think and what they want.

Everyone works, said Elda Zapien, but everyone also has to find something to do with their kids.

“They just need to voice their opinion,” Prescilla Corpus said about local residents. “If you keep quiet, nobody knows what you want.”


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