Garden City commissioners heard an update on the facility set to replace the Big Pool this week, reviewing the problems with the current pool, what attractions the community has shown interest in and what is coming next.

Commissioners and city staff sat in on a meeting Tuesday morning with representatives from facility designers, including Terry Berkbuegler and Hank Moyers of Confluence, Doug Whiteaker of Water Technology Inc., Jeff King of recreation consulting firm Ballard King & Associates, and Dave Hammel of architecture firm Barker Rinker Seacat.

Berkbuegler said the preliminary design process will continue through October, with Confluence taking a month to develop design concepts based on Tuesday’s discussion. In November, the company will seek community input on certain designs and present their findings to the commission. Throughout the process, Confluence and its partner companies will continue to conduct a feasibility study and an operations study for the project.

In November, the commission may set a firm budget for the project, which right now is undetermined due to a list of unknown factors regarding the new facility, like size, admission prices, staffing expenses, concessions and market feasibility, assistant city manager Jennifer Cunningham said.

The designers will then generate cost estimates for some of the top designs and present a master plan and design recommendations to the commission before the end of the year, Berkbuegler said.

After the Big Pool closes in August 2020, as long as all decisions are made ahead of time, construction on the new facility should be ready to open before the summer of 2021, Berkbuegler said.


The Big Pool today

Whiteaker reviewed the history of the Big Pool, tracing its development, updates and community impact from its opening in 1922 to today. The facility was uniquely iconic, he said, memorialized in the Finney County Historical Museum and Finney County Public Library. But the space, at 97 years old, is nearing the end of its structural life, he said.

The pool’s newer splash pad is in good shape, but the facility has some older mechanical pieces, including piping, pumps and gutter systems, and its size makes it difficult to clean and distribute sanitizing chemicals, such as chlorine. The pool’s significant leaks, which kicked off a discussion of a replacement facility in the first place, are likely caused by a variety of problems, including leaks in the aged concrete, piping and gutter systems and an uneven surface, Whiteaker said.

The bathhouse is structurally sound but many of the interior aspects are antiquated or inadequate, Hammel said. The plumbing fixtures don’t stand up to today’s code requirements and water and sewer service is inadequate for the number of people using the building. The building itself is also smaller than what would be needed at a new facility, but could potentially be used in conjunction with a larger new building, he said.

All the issues make for a facility that is expensive to operate, Whiteaker said. The expansive pool, with wide stretches of open water and dark color that obscures the bottom of the pool, is difficult to lifeguard, meaning a larger staff is required.

Staffing costs are significant, but so are chemical costs, he said. The pool loses about 16.8 million gallons a season in leaks and runoff, meaning the city not only has to refill the pool but retreat it. Because of that, the Big Pool was using more chlorine in a day than many pools use in over a week, Whiteaker said, and that adds up quickly.

Redoing the pool as it is is possible, Whiteaker said, but he would not recommend it. Because as it lives now, only a portion of the pool is being actively used by patrons, he said. The splash pad and zero-depth children’s swim area is well-used, as is the inflatable challenge course.

But the slides, which Cunningham said are nearing the end of their 15-year life, tend to run slowly and are used in spurts. In the main pool, swimmers tend to group in the shallow areas, leaving much of the deep end empty.

At the end of the day, it would cost about $7.3 million for “a brand new 1950s pool,” Whiteaker said, or to renovate the current pool, fixing the large leaks.

“There’s two life cycles in pool facilities. One is a structural, service life. The other is a market conditions life ... The pool is not at the end of its structural life and it’s been teetering on the end of its market appeal life for a long period of time,” Whiteaker said.

“At the end of the day, what we wouldn’t resolve even if we stopped it from leaking right now — the maintenance and operations expense — we’re not having a fun pool for everybody.”

A fun pool on the Big Pool’s current scale would also be costly, Whiteaker said. To replace the pool at its current size with a variety of additional attractions could cost $28 million to $30 million. But a smaller facility with key amenities could be more within budget, he said.

“I would be an advocate for at least talking about how do we get the most amount of fun and excitement into a pool,” Whiteaker said. “Maybe it’s not the ‘Big Pool’ anymore ... It’s the ‘Big, Fun, New Pool.’ ”


What to include

Through the end of October, Confluence and its partners will put together designs that ideally reflect what the public wants in a “Big, Fun, New Pool.” But first, they had to ask the public.

For the past several weeks, Confluence has held in-person and online community surveys about what locals want in a new pool facility. In the surveys, community members prioritized more shaded play and seating areas, larger deck areas, a poolside cafe, a lazy river, wave pool, and diving boards, Moyers said. They also voted in favor of other pool amenities, such as a zip line into the water, multiple slides, a surf simulator and a dump bucket or splash pool or playground.

Surveys also showed a desire for a 50-meter competition swimming pool, but that may be slightly skewed by the large amount of swim team families who took the survey in person, Moyers said.

Some of those features could make the attractive to patrons and could be used for programs, Whiteaker said. Lazy rivers and wave pools are both “people holders,” or spaces where a large amount of guests can socialize or play in an active space. Lazy rivers could also be used for water aerobics programs, he said.

Small changes, like the addition of stopwatch timers to slides and challenge courses could insert a level of competition into attractions, which make guests want to use them several times, Whiteaker said. And LED lights in and around the pool could open up the space to later hours or the potential for evening rentals, which could increase pool use and revenue.

Including all those features on a budget may impact the admission price, Whiteaker said, though nothing is set in stone.

Commissioners were hesitant about raising the admission price, with Commissioner Lindsay Byrnes stressing the need for a pool that all Garden City residents could afford.

Whiteaker and Hammel said that even with a higher admission cost, there were still ways to make the pool accessible for everyone, including season passes, discount punch cards or scholarship options, where a household may pay a lower admission price based on its income.


Goals, plans and priorities

Berkbuegler asked commissioners to review their “big picture” vision of the pool facility, as well as potential roadblocks and solutions to those roadblocks.

The space should be cost-effective, affordable, accessible to citizens of different ages and cultures and citizens with disabilities, a space of dense and fun activity, a quality of life improvement for the community and a regional draw for Garden City, commissioners said.

And they were worried about the ramifications of removing a historical icon, admission prices and the cost of a facility that is only open three months a year.

Regardless of what comes next, commissioners agreed they need to listen to the community.


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