The Big Pool did not open for a 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but local officials felt the need to celebrate the end of an era and to help people say goodbye, so a farewell celebration was held Saturday.
Jennifer Cunningham, Garden City assistant city manager, said it was disappointing that a 2020 season couldn’t be held, but the city hopes the farewell celebration helped soothe the sting.
"It's been such a place that held memories for so many different ages and we knew since we couldn't open that we wanted people to be able to get in here one last time, to go through the bath house, to stand in the deep end to get their picture taken, whatever they might want or need to do to celebrate the last days of this facility," she said.
Cunningham has been in Garden City for 10 years, and for the past four years she has been part of managing the pool.
It is bittersweet to see the end of the pool, Cunningham said. She can remember the first time it opened when she was managing it.
"I stood on the far end and looked across all of the water, and it’s a pretty incredible sight when it’s entirely full of water," she said.
Jennifer Mendenhall attended the celebration with her parents, Larry and Sue Brownlee. She is sad to see the pool go, as she grew up swimming and working there.
"It was just a place that everybody could go to," she said. "For a long time it was free, everybody came here. It didn't matter how many people were here, there was always room to do whatever you wanted."
Mendenhall said the memory of the pool that always sticks out in her mind is when elephants from the Lee Richardson Zoo used to swim in the pool at the end of the season.
"I had a lot of fun swimming, but the elephants were what I always thought about with the pool," she said.
Lynn Bohm said he will always remember how cold the water was.
"You go anywhere else and (The Big Pool) was just super cold water compared to any other pool facility," he said. "I always remember it was just always super cold and always full of people."
Bohm said the only downside to the pool when he was growing up was the lack of shade, but the pool meant a lot to him and the community as it’s where everyone in Garden City came to beat the heat.
Lynn Cramer, who moved to Garden City in the 1960s, said the pool holds a lot of memories and hopes the new facility will be done right.
"I hate to see it go away, but as long as they build it right, it's a chance for thousands of other people to make memories," he said.
Shelby Cramer was glad to have had a chance to say goodbye.
"We’re going to miss it," she said. "I think it's awesome that they allowed us to do this one last time, to see it and have all of this."
Cunningham said she was glad to hold the farewell celebration for the community to whom The Big Pool means so much, but she’s also excited about the future and the new facility.
"We're excited about making it a place that the entire community can utilize from little kids to seniors who might want to come and swim laps," she said. "We are going to try to make it extremely fun and affordable and exciting for our community."
Activities at the celebration included a group photo in the deep end of the pool, a chance to walk through the old facility, a raffle for photos of the pool when it was first built, recreated 1930s bumper stickers and free snow cones.
Pieces of concrete from the pool with heat stamps of the pool’s logo and years of operation —1922 to 2019 — were also available for people to take with them.
The exact date of the beginning of construction for the facility is a little unclear, Cunningham said, but will be cleared up at the July 21 city commission meeting, when the final design will be discussed.
"If they approve it that day, we'll be talking with the crews right after that to set the groundbreaking," she said. "We're hoping that if they approve it we'd be able to do the groundbreaking within a few days thereafter."
The new aquatics center is expected to open Memorial Day weekend 2021.
The new facility, which will be called Garden Rapids at The Big Pool, will include a zero depth entry point with a play structure with sprays, a "social zone" which is a transition space from the shallower water with a 3 1/2-foot to 5-foot depth. It will include some bench seating and will be a launching to the lazy river.
The lazy river will be 305 feet long and 10 feet wide. There will be two paths for the river, one where people can go through and get wet with geysers and sprays and one that’s gentler without those water features.
Additionally there will be a slide tower with three different levels and several slides. Some of the slides require an inner tube and some slides that don’t.
There will also be a 50-meter pool, that can be used for swimming competitions and practices. It has diving blocks on both ends and 10 lanes for a 50-meter course for competition. It also has a ninja course.
Behind the 50-meter pool there is a spectator seating gallery, which will have some sort of shading mechanism over it.
The new facility will utilize the existing bathhouse and parking lot while a new administration building, concessions area, machine room and locker area will be built.