Archive for Thursday, July 21, 2005

Aquatic park may have regional draw

July 21, 2005, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: July 21, 2005, 12:20 p.m.

The aquatic park in Lansing's future 128-acre park may draw more than just Lansing residents.

One of the central questions discussed at Saturday's planning session for the park, conducted by the firm hired to design it, was whether to make the water park a regional or community attraction.

The difference, said David Schwartz, design consultant and owner of Water's Edge Aquatic Design, lies in what kind of attractions the park will feature. For example, a "lazy river" - an increasingly popular feature consisting of an artificial river guests ride along on floats - would likely attract guests from all over the area within a 15-mile radius of Lansing, while a park featuring the standard lap lanes, shallow areas, diving board and water slide or two would probably only attract Lansing residents, Schwartz said.

If Lansing decides to attract regional and not just community users to the aquatic center, it will be competing with at least 20 other aquatic centers and pools in the 25-mile radius around the city.

"A lazy river would be an advantage over all area (pool) slides in the region," Schwartz said.

The second most popular feature in aquatic parks, Schwartz said, is a "dumping bucket," which is an enormous bucket that fills with up to 1,000 gallons of water atop a platform several meters high. Children gather under the bucket in anticipation as it fills. The bucket then turns over to pour a sudden waterfall on the children, usually resulting in shrieks of delight.

"It sounds crazy, but it's a lot of fun for the kids, and for adults to watch," said Shannon Gordon, senior project manager for Jeffrey L. Bruce & Co., the landscape architecture and planning firm in charge of master planning the park.

Another issue that arose throughout the day was whether to build an indoor swimming facility in addition to the outdoor section. Indoor pools cost much more money to build and maintain and usually attract fewer guests than outdoor ones. Because of this, they usually require subsidies from local governments or partnerships with organizations such as school districts, the YMCA or even corporations to keep afloat.

One of the advantages of having an indoor as well as outdoor pool would be the year-round availability of the pool for recreation and competitive swimming teams.

Another question discussed at length was the appropriate size of the pool: there are two different swim seasons each year, one requiring pools measuring 25 yards, and the other either 25 or 50 meters. This problem can be solved by building a pool measuring 25 yards by 50 meters. That size pool, though, may cost more than Lansing taxpayers are willing to pay.

The general rule of thumb for outdoor pools is about $300 to $350 per square foot of surface water, while indoor pools' costs are figured according to the size of the building, which is about $250 per square foot. Buildings must necessarily be bigger than the pools they enclose, making the construction of indoor pools much more expensive. Indoor pools require much more extensive and expensive maintenance, including humidity controls and corrosion prevention. Indoor pools typically cost $70-$100 an hour to operate, Schwartz said.

The $9 million indoor aquatic center in Lawrence, for example, requires about $300,000 a year in subsidies from the city of Lawrence, officials there said.

Fred DeVictor, director of Lawrence parks and recreation, said that the subsidy for the facility came from a 1-cent sales tax the city collects. This goes toward not just maintenance costs for the facility, but utilities, which can run as high as $12,000 per month in the winter. The indoor aquatic center and Lawrence's outdoor aquatic center together bring in about $525,000 per year, DeVictor said.

In discussing the indoor pool, many attendees supported making the pool's building a community center that could house basketball courts and city hall.

The goals that the session attendees cited for the aquatic park were that it be sustainable, fit the rest of the park's landscape and be sellable to taxpayers and users.

Harland Russell, City Council member, said at the meeting, "We're going to have to be innovative with financing." He added later, "I don't see how it'll be done without a bond."

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