Community Swimming Pools Receiving Makeovers

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, May. 27, 2013 12:00 am  

The $12 million Rogers Aquatics Center opened last week in northwest Arkansas, making the city the latest municipality to build its own water park.

Among the cities giving their community swimming pools a makeover:

  • The city of Clarksville is expected to open its $10 million aquatic park this summer.
  • The city of Fort Smith and Sebastian County have teamed up to build an $8 million water park. It is expected to open by Memorial Day 2015.
  • Residents of White Hall recently approved a bond issue to help pay for an approximately $7.5 million water park. It could be open in 2015.

Since 2000, a number of Arkansas cities have built their own water parks, which typically feature water play areas and slides connected to swimming pools.

“Over the years, we’ve found a declining interest in the traditional swimming pool,” said Andy Smith, the group leader at Larkin Aquatics of Kansas City, Mo., which designed the parks in Clarksville and Fort Smith. “When residents in the community have other options, they would prefer to go to something that offers a bit more in leisure amenities.”

This interest in enhanced swimming activities has sparked an aquatic parks arms race between cities. If a neighboring community has a water park, then the other community wants one and it has to be bigger and better than the previous water center, said Darren Bevard, studio director for Counsilman-Hunsaker of St. Louis, which designs water parks. And the next one has to “do something new and fresh to try and steal some of that attendance,” he said.

Don Zimmerman, the executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, said he expects the trend of cities building water parks to continue. If city officials “see these as popular in other cities, their citizens will probably start requesting that in their own city,” Zimmerman said.

The cost of operating a water park, which could be as high as $500,000 a season, is typically covered through admission fees.

Water Park Challenges

Construction began on Clarksville’s aquatic center in October, said Leo Anhalt, president of SSI Inc. of Fort Smith, which is building the project.

This is the first water park in SSI’s 44-year history, Anhalt said. And it came at the right time because the project kept the company’s employees working through the winter months, he said. SSI’s 2012 revenue was $34 million, up 70 percent from the previous year and good enough to tie at No. 13 on Arkansas Business’ list of largest commercial contractors ranked by revenue. 

One of the challenges of building a water park is all the pipes necessary for the job. “The piping is just an unbelievable spider web … in those things,” Anhalt said. “It really takes a good mechanical guy to get that installed properly.”

He said the Clarksville project is on schedule, and its first phase should open by July 4. That first phase includes a “lazy river” for floating, a play area for children and a “zero-entry” pool, which means it doesn’t have any steps and just gently slopes from the deck into the pool.



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