The City Council has accepted a master plan outlining an aquatics center in Elmer Thomas Park, as well as a recommendation to convert three wading pools to splash pads.
But, discussion on specific projects won’t take place until June.
Council members took the action Tuesday during a lengthy special session where Halff Associates presented an aquatics master plan, as well as a master plan for city lakes, and conceptual designs for new amenities in Elmer Thomas Park. The lakes plan was tabled indefinitely, in part because of council concerns about building near the city’s primary water source, but members voted to accept the aquatics and Elmer Thomas Park plans. Discussions on specific priorities for both plans will come in June, under the motions from Ward 4 Councilman George Gill.
The two fit together: while the aquatics plan is a master plan for all City of Lawton water amenities, one of its key features is a family aquatics center on Elmer Thomas Park’s east side, in the area that already contains the city’s popular splash park.
The idea behind the aquatics master plan is finding new options for the municipal swimming pool and wading pools the city has operated for decades.
“It’s very expensive to bring them back,” said Robbie Hazelbaker, project manager for Water Technology Inc. (which is working with Halff), about deteriorating aquatic structures that needed extensive repairs to be operational this summer.
Hazelbaker said the wading pools in particular are “out of date and out of code,” which is why city staff recommended they not be opened this year. Hazelbaker said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is addressing the issues that would have prevented the municipal swimming pool from opening, work directed earlier this year by council members determined to provide the water amenity for city youth.
Halff’s analysis shows that while the City of Lawton definitely should offer water amenities to residents, existing facilities — with the exception of the splash pad in Elmer Thomas Park — are not well used, while costing the city more than $100,000 a summer to operate. That’s why Halff is recommending a plan that city recreation staff and council members already have said they like: family-style water centers that offer things such as leisure pools (water is less than 4 feet deep), “lazy” rivers and water slides. That’s the idea for the facility in Elmer Thomas Park, and Hazelbaker provided a rough conceptual design featuring a beach front area and an entertainment pool that flows into a lazy river.
He called it part one of a multi-phase aquatic upgrade, and one that would cost an estimated $10 million to achieve, including all associated amenities and infrastructure.
Unlike the existing splash pad, which is open to city youth free of charge, the aquatics center would have fees for those who use it, which in turn would help provide revenue to support the facility. Hazelbaker suggested fees ranging from $4 to $7, “a little higher” than fees charged for the city pool. The council voted earlier this spring to drop even those fees.
Operational costs for the aquatics center would be higher than what the city pays now. Hazelbaker said his firm is recommending a full-time coordinator who would spend January to September focused on the center, either preparing it for operations, operating it or closing it down and winterizing it (part-time staff would be added in the summer). While expenses are projected at $433, 909 (most associated with personnel, utilities, and chemicals and supplies), revenues are projected at $187,607.
The aquatics master plan also recommends the city convert its wading pools in 35th Division, Mocine and Harmon parks to splash pads, something city staff has said would be more economical to operate and more attractive to youth. Hazelbaker said the plan also recommends the city have four major splash pads. Two already exist in Elmer Thomas Park and George M. Lee Park in south Lawton, and Halff is recommended two more be built as part of upgrades planned for Lee West Park on Southwest 67th Street, and in Eastside Park on East Gore Boulevard.