The Garden City Commission heard the results Tuesday of a two-month process to gauge public opinion regarding the future of the nearly 100-year-old Big Pool, taking in a summary of thousands of resident comments and, surprisingly, what the input said about the city itself.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Cunningham, who spearheaded the process, spent weeks holding in-person presentations about the upcoming project for more than 6,000 people, including every student from third to 12th grades in Garden City, high school students in Holcomb, Lakin, Deerfield and Cimarron, the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education, Finney County Commission, Neighborhood Learning Center, Spanish radio station, over a dozen local organizations and the public.

“This is the results of the Big Pool community input process. Obviously, that sounds really simple. It was not simple, but it was enlightening,” Cunningham told commissioners. “I can’t say that there’s probably too many other people who’ve had that much exposure to that many people across our community that quickly, and so I got to learn a lot about a lot of different people.”

Because of the persistent leak buried beneath the pool’s concrete that costs the city 200,000 gallons of water and more than $1,000 a day when the pool is filled, the commission decided last year to ask the community, via an online survey, what it wanted from public water recreation.

It could be an opportunity to repair and update the Big Pool or lay to rest the landmark entirely for something else, like several, smaller neighborhood pools, small or large splash parks, or even a larger water park.

By the end of the surveying period, the city received more than 4,460 survey results, about 3,400 of which came from students and more than 1,000 of which came from community members, Cunningham told commissioners. Those who listened, Cunningham said, were happy to consider other projects.

“I had multiple people come up to me after those presentations and said ‘I came to this meeting to tell you that you needed to keep the Big Pool. I am here to tell you now we need to figure out a way to do it better. We need to have swimming. This is not the answer. It’s lived its life. Let’s figure out what to do next,’” Cunningham said.

 

Big pool favored

The data showed that most people want the city to continue providing a swimming facility and that most want that facility to be similar to the Big Pool, Cunningham said. Students tend to use the pool less as they get older, but all ages appreciate the space first and foremost as a place to hang out with friends, she said.

Young families are interested in splash parks and a baby pool, while slightly older demographics want big slides, she said. She said amenities like a picnic or community area, concession stand and especially shade and upgraded showers ranked high across all age households. The location of the pool did not matter to most people.

Respondents across all age groups wanted “more features,” though often did not specify what features, at the pool, and older residents said they would come more often if the pool was cleaner, an issue Cunningham said wasn’t an issue.

The pool is clean, she said, though people may remember it being dirty in the past. People from varying age groups mentioned desires for slides, a lazy river and more events at the pool multiple times, Cunningham said.

Nonusers said they do not go to the pool because they or their parents are busy with work, they can’t swim, they don’t like swimming, they would prefer an indoor facility or that the pool’s consistently cold temperatures, a symptom of the constantly pumped in water to making up for the leak, are too uncomfortable, Cunningham said.

She said many people said they could not afford the pool’s $2 admission fee with large families and that any pool project would have to include concepts for those who can and cannot afford the fee.

The surveys and Cunningham’s local meetings did more than help the city determine what it’s next pool would be, she said. They gave her insight into the perspectives of people from all corners of Garden City.

“I feel like our community, in their segregated groups, is unaware of the rest of the community. And I found that when I went to visit because I was unaware,” Cunningham said.

An indoor pool and 50-meter competition lanes are very important to those involved with the high school swim team but not to those not connected to the sport, Cunningham said. Younger families are interested in splash parks throughout town, while parents of older children think they would be a waste of land or money.

Residents who use the Neighborhood Learning Center, a resource center for immigrants to the U.S., like the idea of the splash parks because they could wear their regular clothing or normal swimwear while using them, Cunningham said. One of the most mentioned topics among the youngest survey responders was cost — they said the pool is too expensive, she said.

“I think all these people are really unaware of all these different populations, and your job — difficult — is going to be somehow bringing all of these ideas and these needs together so you can somehow answer them all,” Cunningham told commissioners.

 

More input sought

Instead of the commission making a final decision about the project at its April 2 meeting, as originally planned, Cunningham suggested adding another leg to the community input process.

Commissioners would determine a list of parameters — cost, size, desired features, potential locations, etc. — and request proposals for project designs from several local and non-local architects, designers and engineers.

Once the designs are completed, the city will mail out one more community survey, this time of the tangible projects, alongside May utility bills. With the results of that survey in hand, the commission would make a final determination of which project to pursue, potentially with some amendments, in early June, she said. The commission agreed to move forward with the new timeline.

At this point, she said, the community is mostly just interested in what comes next.

“This was the sentiment I got from a lot of people. I had a lot of students and teachers come and hit me on the shoulder and say ‘I like what you’re doing. I feel like you’re going to make a good decision. Just go make it.’ You know?” Cunningham said. “(They said) ‘I’m going to trust you to make it … I value that you asked me. Thank you. But now go make the best decision.’”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.