Troy Houtman, CPRE – Director of Park and Recreation, City of Wichita, P&R Department
Dating back to 2014, Wichita P&R began work on development of an aquatic master plan to repair and upgrade ten pools that were built in the 1950’s. As the 2018 pool season began two pools were closed due to mechanical and infrastructure issues. One in particular, McAdams pool (later changed name to McAfee Pool in honor of the African American designer) is in the heart of an African American community and had significant pressure to re-open. In the eyes of equity and diversity, McAfee pool had become a priority for repairs and upgrades. In all the pools the filtration system was an antiquated DE system that required a huge amount of time and labor to backwash and operate, they were original equipment. The issue was how can all these pools be replaced. The City of Wichita set aside $24 million in CIP funds and $2 million in art and aesthetics to address the issue.
To make the most of the funds, six pools were selected to have major renovations and upgrades. These six pools received all new filtration and mechanical upgrades, new slides, new pool amenities such as climbing walls, shade structures, pop up jets, zero depth entry and other upgrades for safety and aesthetics. Each pool was selected due to location and usage for equal coverage across the city. An average of $3 million was spent on each pool for these upgrades and an additional $350K was spent on each pool for additional art and aesthetics with themes rooted from each neighborhood. The art was a fantastic touch of class to faded and dated pools and provides ownership and identity to the pools.
The remaining four pools were converted into splash pads that were highly themed and customized. An example is at Evergreen Park which the Hispanic neighborhood chose the Aztec God Tlaloc; the god of water as the focal piece of the splash pad. This site is packed with families on many of the hot days. In addition, 2 more splash pads were built, all themed, such as a scorpion, as these too are spread across the city to have equal distance to each splash pad. Each were built for approximately $1 million apiece for a total of $6 million. The pool conversion to splash pads has its pros and cons, but we were able to keep the restrooms and mechanical rooms to reduce cost. Using the old pool infrastructure is a great help in the operations.
In 2020 due to covid, all aquatic operations were on hiatus, but the silver lining was that in 2019 the plan was adopted in two phases and 2020-2021 was spent working on half the project construction and 2021-2022 was the second half of construction. As we reach the end of June, all facilities have been built or renovated. The strategy to spend money to renovate the pools in lieu of full replacement seems to be a great option for our residents. These pools are smaller and really service each neighborhood. The outcome is not the latest and greatest water park that would have required the entire amount of funding. This strategy has really strengthened the neighborhoods, kept the projects affordable, provided splash pads for parents with small children to use for free, modernized all operations and created pools and splash pads with fun, charm, appeal and character. As I look back at the project, at times I thought it would never be completed; however, it has been a great success and a great option. Sometimes old is new! More information can be found about the master plan at our website for facility operations information.