What's the latest with the new water park/aquatic center?
Construction is expected to begin later this year, and a very real possibility remains that Phase 1 of Baldwin County's new Aquatic Center could open to the public at some point during the spring or summer of 2024.
"Aquatic Center" is the county commission's working title for the new water park planned at Walter B. Williams Jr. Park.
The idea is to provide recreation during the warm-weather months and not lose money at the same time, according to County Manager Carlos Tobar. This is why the county commission is moving forward with the ambitious project, which will closely mimic the waterpark in Dublin/Laurens County.
So, why not just build a swimming pool at Walter B. and be done with it?
“(Basic swimming pools) don’t make money," Tobar said. “In our field trips to other facilities and our research, we found that (basic swimming pools) aren’t really popular with the public anymore."
The new Baldwin County water park will be constructed along the old Georgia State Prison property, located between Ga. 22 and the Walter B. gymnasium. Two sites originally were considered for the new aquatics facility/water park. One was the old prison farm, which eventually won out, while the other was the area around the old Walter B. Pool, located near the bottom tennis courts.
“We wanted to create continuity between the gym and the ball fields and the aquatic facility, where people can sort of walk back and forth,” Tobar said. “Let's face it. It would’ve been quite a hike (to walk from the site of the old Walter B. pool to the new aquatics facility/water park).”
Also, the site of the old prison property offers much more land and built-in parking. Although the new water park by no means will be Six Flags or White Water, there will still be a need for ample parking, said Tobar. The entrance to the new water park will be located directly across from the large existing parking lot at Walter B. that borders Ga. 22.
• 1 – large swimming pool
• 2 – lazy river
• 3 – splash pad
• 4 – kiddie slide
• 5 – big slide
• 6 – picnic area/pavilion
• 7 – front entrance/concession stand/changing room
•8 – pump house
• 9 – picnic tables and shade umbrellas
• 10 – picnic tables and shade umbrellas
• 11 – Ga. 22 West (just for reference)
So, how is all of this being paid for? Well, the final price tag is expected to come in right around $5 million, a relatively large dollar amount for a county of 43,000 people. The centerpiece of the funding arrived earlier this spring, when Baldwin County was awarded a $2.2 million grant for the project from the Governor's Office of Planning & Budget. The county commission then voted to come over the top with $1.9 million in SPLOST money, which adds up to roughly $4.1 million. That amount – $4.1 million – will cover everything with the exception of the splash pad and the large water slide. The splash pad and water slide are considered "Phase 2," which may or may not be ready before 2025.
However, Phase 1 hopefully will be finished by Memorial Day 2024. This phase will include the large swimming pool, lazy river, changing rooms, lighting, concession stands, as well as all of the grading work, pre-construction, pump houses and water infrastructure.
Unlike the water park in Dublin, the one here in Baldwin County will include ample lighting. Tobar said that the idea is to rent the aquatic center out to the public for birthday parties and other events after hours.
(Renting out the facility for private gatherings after it closes to the general public) is something we believe will be a large revenue generator, and we want everyone to know that our goal is to make money," he said. "The (water park in Dublin) turned a profit last year, and we believe that we can, too."
Also, according to Tobar, swimming lessons will be offered to the public free of charge between 8 a.m.–10 a.m., while the lazy river also will be open to senior citizens during this timeframe. Meanwhile, the park will open to the public around 11 a.m. and close around 5 or 6 p.m. After that is when the facility will be available for private events, according to Tobar.