Water park project revived; construction could begin next year
Following several timeouts and audibles, the new Walter B. Williams Jr. Park "Aquatics Center" project is now back on, and construction "hopefully will begin" next year, according to county officials.
County Manager Carlos Tobar announced at Tuesday's county commission meeting that a contract on an engineering study was signed earlier this week, the first step for the multi-year project.
"Aquatics Center" basically is the county commission's working phrase for "a water park." The project has been talked about and bounced around for several years now. Tobar and other county commissioners have taken multiple field trips to other water parks in similar-sized counties, including the one in Laurens County.
The idea, according to Tobar, is to provide swimming during the warm-weather months and not lose money at the same time. The county currently is losing money at the Centennial Center swimming pool, which its renting this summer from Georgia College & State University.
The Aquatics Center appeared to be on the verge of being green lit in the spring of 2021. There were artists renderings, meetings and even target opening dates. The project then went dormant for more than a year before being revived earlier this month. In terms of the location, that has not changed. The Aquatics Center is slated to be built on the old prison property at Walter B., just on the other side of the row of cedar trees beside the big parking lot.
The original plan from last year was to build in several phases. Phase 1 would've included a splash pad, small slide and restrooms, while the following phases would've included a large swimming pool, a lazy river, a larger slide and other amenities. Now, the order has been inverted, and Phase 1 is slated to include the four-lane pool and restrooms, according to Tobar.
"We need a swimming pool first. That's what we've come to realize," Tobar said. "That's the bottom line.
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Tobar hopes that contractors can begin work on the swimming pool, restrooms and pump house next year. The subsequent phases (water slides, lazy river, other amenities) would be completed down the road, and the other phases would be contingent upon the passage of another SPLOST, which is scheduled for 2023. Without another round of SPLOST, funding for the further phases of the Aquatics Center would be unrealistic.
Also, without the water slides, lazy river and other amenities, the likelihood of the Aquatics Center ever turning a profit would diminish greatly. Tobar pointed out last year that the water park in Dublin was turning a profit. The county commission isn't exactly copying or duplicating the water park in Dublin, but the one is Dublin is basically the inspiration and the template for the one here.
“(Basic swimming pools) don’t make money," Tobar said last year. “In our field trips to other facilities and our research, we found that (basic swimming pools) aren’t really popular with the public anymore."
In the nifty sketch above, numbers 1 , 7 and 8 (the swimming pool, the front entrance/restrooms and the pump house) would be Phase 1. The other amenities would be constructed further down the road, as funding became available.
• 2 – lazy river
• 3 – splash pad
• 4 – kiddie slide
• 5 – big slide
• 6 – picnic area/pavilion
• 9 – picnic tables and shade umbrellas
• 10 – picnic tables and shade umbrellas
• 11 – Ga. 22 West (just for reference)