Photo by Diane Cox
A young swimmer reaches the bottom of one of the two four-story water slides last year at the Wood River Aquatic Center. The clock is ticking on the 31-year-old facility as the city of Wood River considers its options.
WOOD RIVER — For the last 90 years, the city of Wood River has enjoyed the distinction of having one of the Midwest’s best aquatic facilities. The city was known for having the world’s largest public swimming pool — originally opening in 1926 — until the $4 million water recreational complex was built in 1985.
Now, the future of the Aquatic Center could be in jeopardy.
“This facility is old, there is no doubt about that,” center Manager Fred Slow said. “We reached out to a firm that does pool designs; they’ve done thousands of community pools. We are conducting a feasibility study that analyzes the community we live in, the communities we service and where we draw visitors from. That study helps determine what kind of facility would be needed and what kind of features will meet our guests’ needs and wants. We will definitely be open for the 2016 season; beyond that will depend on the study and the City Council. If I have things my way, we will always have a great aquatic center here in Wood River; it just may not be the same facility.”
After making changes to the open swim hours and the pool and slide’s rental prices and availability, financially 2015 was one of the center’s better years.
“We saw a good increase in attendance during the 2015 season,” Slow said. “In 2014 we were open 81 days, but the pool and slide was only privately rented for 35 events. In 2015 with the new hours and rates, it was privately rented for 77 private events out of 79 days of being open, and that’s huge. We do our best to make sure the facility is clean and looks great, but we want to put the focus on the functionality.”
Attracting more than 40,000 visitors annually and providing numerous water programs and events during the 12-week season, the Aquatic Center has lived a full decade beyond original estimates.
“The Aquatic Center has well lived beyond its life expectancy,” Wood River City Manager Jim Schneider said. “Park and Recreation Director Jason Woody and pool manager Fred Slow keep the facility looking very nice, but the internal workings are suffering. The pipes and pumps are quite old and every year we have some major costs with repairs. We are contemplating what to do and we haven’t made any decisions yet. We know that within the next few years we will either need to do away with the facility or build a new one. That will be a big decision for the council in the future.”
The Aquatic Center, 670 Whitelaw Ave., runs the summer session from May 30 until the school term starts. Season passes are available for purchase for the 2016 season. For information, call (618) 251-3130 or visit www.wrparks.org/aquatic-center.
Follow @NewsAdVantage on Twitter