Work begins on new Walter B. water park; new grant will fast-track process
Its official title is the "Baldwin County Aquatic Center." In local parlance, however, it will probably end just being the "Walter B. water park."
Surveying work is now underway off of Ga. 22, located between the Walter B. Williams Jr. Park gymnasium and the highway, and by this winter it should be a full-fledged construction scene.
So, when will the new waterpark open? Well, County Manager Carlos Tobar was hesitant to offer a timetable, with variables including the weather, supply shortages and bureaucratic red tape. Nevertheless, after some prodding, Tobar eventually told Baldwin2K News that he is "cautiously optimistic" that the facility could be open to the public by this time next year, while he's "very confident" that the new water park will open at some point 2025, whether that means the Memorial Day weekend or at some point later in the summer.
The county commission received the final ingredient in the recipe earlier this week, as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources notified Tobar that the county had received one of the DNR's "Land Water Conservation Grant" in the amount of $447,000. This latest grant, according to Tobar, will "allow the county to build phases 1 and 2 at one time." The default plan previously was to construct the water park in phases.
In other words, hopefully by this time next year, Milledgeville/Baldwin County will be home to a brand-new water park featuring the following...
• 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)
The idea is to provide recreation during the warm-weather months and not lose money at the same time, according to Tobar. This is why the county commission is moving forward with the ambitious project, which will closely mimic the waterpark in Dublin/Laurens County...
Entrance into the new water park will be $10, while "season passes" also will be offered, also closely mimicking the water park in Dublin. At last check, "season passes" in Dublin were $65 or four for $175.
The hours of operation, barring anything unforeseen, will be 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free swimming lessons will be offered periodically from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., says Tobar, while the facility will be available for rent for private events after 6 p.m.
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."
Two sites originally were considered for the new aquatics facility/water park. One, of course, was the chosen site, while the other was the area around the old Walter B. Pool, located near the bottom pickleball 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 chosen site 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.
So, how is all of this being paid for? The majority of the funding actually comes from outside grant money, mainly a $2.2 million federal American Rescue Act "Improving Neighborhood Outcomes in Disproportionately Impacted Communities" grant. The DNR grant adds another $500,000, while the remaining $2.3 million will be SPLOST dollars. The total cost of the Walter B. water park has been tentatively placed at $5 million.