Garden Rapids opens Saturday; here's what to expect
Garden Rapids at The Big Pool is now open.
The Big Pool's successor was constructed in the footprint of the former aquatics facility after 10 months of construction, beginning in July 2020.
It cost just under $14 million to construct and includes a renovated bathhouse, new concession area, green space, semi-private cabanas, new toddler area, splash park, zero-depth entry, plunge pool, lazy river, pool with both a 5-meter and 25 yard options for competition swimmers and five slide tower with a tube slide, body flume, two Fly Time slide and a Slipstream stand-up slide.
The capacity at Garden Rapids is 1,800.
Jennifer Cunningham, Garden City assistant city manager, said the idea of a new aquatics facility started to form after she took over management of the pool around 2016, 2017 when there was a management change of the Recreation Commission, now the Parks and Recreation Department.
During the first year of operating the pool, in which she got Garden City Pubic Utilities director Mike Muirhead, former Garden City Public Works director Sam Currant and former interim Public Works director Andy Liebelt involved, they realized there were some major problems with The Big Pool.
"In the very first season, we had over $150,000 in repairs just to open and operate. It was nickel and dime stuff, it was $10,000 here, $10,000 there, $10,000 here, $10,000 there, and before you knew it we got to the end of the season and we used $110,000 in chemicals," she said.
Garden Rapids will use about $17,000 a year in chemicals and holds about 1 million gallons of water, Cunningham said. The Big Pool held 2 million gallons of water, but the new facility will not even cost has as much in chemical expense.
Also, the pool was losing about 200,000 gallons of water a day, Cunningham said. A pipe from the bathhouse was running 24 hours a day in order to keep the pool filled.
The coating on the bottom of the pool was also coming off and there was black algae because the pump system didn't flow water correctly into the deep end, Cunningham said. Edges of the pool would get hot with chlorine and the chlorine would never make it to the center of the pool.
"I had lifeguards in the mornings with white erasers attached to the end of long sticks, metals poles, that we could scrub off those black algae. We were hand dropping chlorine in those areas to try and clean that up.," she said. "It just was one thing after another and all of that is really expensive, especially when you're talking about a facility that holds 2 million gallons of water."
The Big Pool was costing the city around $800,000 a summer to operate, Cunningham said. For less than 12 weeks of operation, which only around 300 people a day utilized, they were spending more than some city departments spent in a year.
Something needed to change, Cunningham said.
Looking at the history of the pool with the Garden City Commission, Cunningham found that over the past 40 years past commissions have put committees together to try and do something about the pool but could never make any headway to either build a new facility or get rid of the pool.
In talking to Matt Allen, the city manager, Cunningham realized she would have to approach the idea of a new facility differently as the pool is, in the words of Allen, "a tough thing to sell ... this is their beloved historic landmark; this is something that's very difficult for them."
So, Cunningham started the process of talking to and surveying the public – students, community groups and agencies, those who use the facility.
"We ended up meeting face-to-face, myself I ended up meeting face-to-face with a little over 6,500 people in a matter of six weeks. During that period of time we also surveyed 4,500," she said. "I read all the surveys, collected all that data and then we used that when we hired the consultants to reengage the community and really design this facility."
Once the community knew it was either going to be water recreation or no water recreation, they really got behind the concept, but still have a unique facility that sets Garden City apart from other community water parks.
"That's really where this project developed," she said. "We want people to have a reason to come to the Big Pool still, which is now Garden Rapids. They wanted people to be excited about it and not just be just another water park."
Everything moved fast from there, and 28 months since the first community meeting and the pool has opened.
"It's absolutely incredible," Cunningham said. "A lot of people said 'oh it can't be done, oh you're going to pay extra because of it.' But what we're paying for this project is approximately what Dodge City paid for their water park ... five or six years ago. That's pretty incredible, right?"
Community members were also heavily involved in the construction, Cunningham said as McCownGordon, the construction manager-at-risk for the project, contracted 90% to local agencies and city staff has helped in construction as well.
The Finnup Foundation has also helped as they donated the funds for a new splash park after the old splash pad from The Big Pool, which the city was planning to reuse, had some electrical wiring issues.
The pool is meant to be a place for the community, Cunningham said, and the city has worked hard to keep the costs down so people can use the pool.
It will cost $3 per person to use Garden Rapids, only a dollar more than The Big Pool.
"The commission worked really, really hard to keep this to be affordable, and they did a great job I think," she said. "I don't know what the prices will be this summer in Dodge, but when I went I believe it was something like $5 or $7 per person or somewhere in there, to get in. So $3 is a big deal."
Paying $5 or more per person for a family can make accessibility of the pool hard, Cunningham said, so they wanted to keep the price reasonable so people could utilize it.
"That's a big deal for families, teachers who are home all summer and can take their kids, daycare centers who are bringing two or three kids every single day," she said. "It just gives you an option to not feel guilty about coming for a couple of hours and going home."
Aaron Stewart, Garden City director of Parks and Recreation, agrees.
"I think obviously the City Commission was very cognizant of keeping this affordable and rightfully so," he said. "I think we can say that that's true as far as what our rates are for everything from daily admission to passes, to even the rental spaces."
Stewart said Garden Rapids is a major asset for Garden City.
"Obviously, I think that the project is absolutely out of sight cool. We have things that no other municipality in the country has as far as the Fly Time slides and nobody else in the Midwest has a SlipStream slide, which is the stand-up slide," he said. "I think it's really cool to have those things, not to mention we're not leaking 200,000 gallons of water a day."
Garden Rapids is an efficient and safer environment for community members to come and have fun, Stewart said. He's excited for the facility to be used and summer events are already planned.
"People are really excited, and I love it when people get really excited and enjoy these types of facilities that are outdoors, active and engaging," he said. "I don't think you could ask for anything more out of a facility."
Events at Garden Rapids this summer include an adult night the first Friday of every month, a Kids Night the second Friday of every month and movie nights the third Friday of every month.
In July there will be a Fit Friday and a deck art contest on the fourth Friday.
The swim team will use the pool in the morning and on Tuesdays there will be a 12-and- under swim that uses the leisure pool side, the zero depth entry, while the swim team uses the competition pool in the mornings, Stewart said.
"We'll pretty much operate from 7 a.m. until at most nights 8:30 p.m., but weekend times could be extended until 10:30 with some of our events and potential rentals," he said. "We have fully loaded days from now until September."
The pool opened Saturday, May 29, with its last day of full operation on Sept. 6, Labor Day. It will open at 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
He believes the pool will draw people in, even those from outside the area, and will be widely used in the first couple of years.
"I think on certain days, especially weekends, I think you're going to see some people from outside of town coming in to use this facility," he said. "The Facebook tracking on it has word being spread around the five-state area, including all the way up in Nebraska. I think you're going to see some economic impact when people come in and will come in for this facility."
While the pool is now open, there will be some ongoing construction with the splash park and semi-private cabanas.