Plan would decrease number of Wichita city pools, add aquatics centers

07/30/2013 6:49 AM

07/30/2013 6:49 AM

The city is developing a sweeping new plan that would close some neighborhood swimming pools and aim to build five new aquatics centers around Wichita eventually.

The city’s 2014 budget proposes opening seven of the 11 existing neighborhood pools in 2014 as part of the transformation.

The new aquatic centers would cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million each. The funding has not been established but would come from the city’s capital improvement plan as money is available, said Doug Kupper, parks and recreation director.

The first center could be built at the site of the Edgemoor pool at 5811 E. Ninth St. in east Wichita and be open by the 2015 swim season, Kupper said. The locations of other aquatics centers would depend on the needs of the areas they would serve and what other pools overlap those areas, he said. Some may be built at the sites of existing pools, some may be built in other parks in the same areas.

The pools that would be closed in 2014 are at Evergreen, McAdams, Edgemoor and Country Acres parks. Edgemoor and Country Acres have been closed since 2012 because of structural and plumbing problems. Leaks were causing them to lose 10 percent of their water.

Pools at Aley, Boston, College Hill, Harvest, Linwood, Minisa and Orchard parks would be open in 2014.

The poor conditions of the some of the city’s existing pools, the need to make its pools comply with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the evolution of swimming facilities around the area required the city to make changes, Kupper said.

“We built pools in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. More Y’s have opened, and private neighborhood pools have sprung up. So what is our niche?” Kupper said. “Our niche is making sure a child living in one of those neighborhoods that has a neighborhood pool is safe. We want to teach children to be safe around any body of water – if they fall into a retention pond that they have the skills to at least hold on until somebody saves them.

“We have two rivers that run through our city and lots of retention ponds. Every year, at least one child either drowns or nearly drowns in a retention pond or an uncle’s pool,” he said.

Public’s desires

The new swim centers would provide swimming lessons, host swim teams and include family-friendly amenities such as “mushroom” fountains and zero-depth entry points for tots. Suggestions for the new parks came from public feedback, which also revealed a desire for longer hours and a longer season at the city’s pools.

The Edgemoor pool will get a new center because attendance numbers there were high, and the city has enough real estate at the site to build a bigger facility, Kupper said.

The numbers don’t look good for the Country Acres pool at 705 N. Country Acres near Ridge Road and Central. Attendance was low, and the pool was leaking 10 to 13 inches of water a night, Kupper said. There also are other pools in the area.

“We have to go to the Country Acres neighborhood about their pool and what they think should replace it,” Kupper said.

The McAdams pool at 1556 N. Ohio, near East 13th Street and I-135, is losing water, attendance is low, and the neighborhood has evolved into an area of older residents who don’t want a pool anymore, Kupper said. Teens in the area have suggested a skate park be built at the site.

On a recent hot Wednesday afternoon, the only people using the McAdams pool were about two dozen kids from La Petite Academy day care centers in Wichita. They have been using the pool this summer because it is less crowded than other pools, according to Sarah Eaton, a teacher with La Petite.

The Evergreen pool at 2700 N. Woodland, near West 25th Street North and Arkansas, also has problems holding water, and the Minisa pool at 1350 N. Jeanette is in the area, so the city needs to determine what makes sense for the overall use in that area, Kupper said.

“If Evergreen was to get a new aquatics center, what would it look like? If Minisa is to lose that pool, what would we do with that space?” he said.

Those are the kinds of questions the city must resolve, he said.

‘What makes sense?’

The new aquatics plan will go before the park board commission on Aug. 19. If the board embraces it, a decision will be made about whether to present the plan at a City Council workshop and then take it to the public or take it to the public first, Kupper said.

The $4 million to $5 million price tags for the new centers are based on what people have said they want in them, Kupper said. In addition to waterfalls and family-oriented features, they still want areas for lap swimming, Kupper said.

All the pools must meet ADA compliance, and none of the city’s existing pools meet new ADA rules calling for two points of entry for physically challenged people to get in and out of the water, Kupper said.

The plan to reduce the number of public pools may be radical but is necessary, Kupper said.

“Not too many places have this kind of downsizing in mind,” Kupper said, “but again, what’s sustainable and what makes sense today? The rules we played by in the 1960s aren’t the same rules we play by today.”

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