WOOD RIVER — The Wood River Aquatic Center is celebrating its 30th year in operation, but the water park’s days may be numbered.
The aquatic center opened on May 24 for another year, but Parks and Recreation director Jason Woody said one thing after another has hindered the park in the early days of operation. Issues with the pool’s filter system have caused Woody to close the park on occasion, and a leak beneath the pool is causing the center to lose approximately 27,000 gallons of water per day.
“This year has been pretty rough so far,” Woody said. “It seems like every time we think we’re ahead of the ballgame something happens, breaks down, knocks us back 20 steps from where we thought we were.”
Woody said they’ve had two different companies come out in recent days to try to find the leak in the water line, but a series of sharp angles within the line have prohibited the companies’ cameras from reaching far enough to identify where the leak is occurring. Woody said the pool loses “a few inches” of water per day due to the leak, and replacing that water each day would cost the city approximately $5,500 over the pool’s three-month operation period.
Woody said even if the leak is identified, it won’t be cheap.
“If we find the leak, it’s going to cost a lot more than $6,000 to fix it,” Woody said.
Fixing the filter system could be equally expensive for the city. Woody said a filter system overhaul could cost more than $100,000. The pool’s operating budget is roughly $300,000 per year, Woody said, so a new filter would be a substantial amount of money for the city to appropriate to the center. Woody also said the pool’s water slide needs to be resurfaced, a $150,000 project.
The aquatic center has been losing around $20,000 per year in recent years, Woody said. With some major repairs on the horizon, he suggested a discussion needs to be had about the water park’s future.
“There are a lot of repairs that do need to be done if we were to open next year that are top repairs, over $100,000 for each repair,” Woody said. “There’s a lot of other things that could come up depending on what kind of winter we have. We did have a really rough winter this past year, and I think that’s probably why we’re having some of the problems we’re having this year. But it is also a 30-year-old facility, so all those pipes underground — which there are a lot of them — have been there for a long time. I think it’s time we decide what we need to do with this place.”
The water park has been a Wood River establishment for 30 years, and according to the Parks and Recreation Department’s website, the center draws more than 40,000 visitors annually. Councilman Frank Akers said the fact that the center is developing problems is to be expected for a complex of its age.
“Just so the citizens of Wood River know, we’ve been living on borrowed time with it for quite some time,” Akers said. “When we put together the aquatic center more than 30 years ago, we were told by every community we visited that after 20 years there would need to be either a replacement or a major renovation. So we’ve gotten more than our money’s worth out of it.”
Woody said he will try to keep the facility open as much as possible this year before officials decide what to do with it going forward. Both Woody and Akers agreed the facility is probably past the point of renovation, leaving the possibility of constructing a new facility or abandoning the idea of a city-owned water park altogether.
Mayor Fred Ufert said in the end, it’ll likely come down to the citizens’ feelings on whether it’s the best use of their tax dollars.
“If we can’t find the problem, then a decision might have to be made (about) major repair, or a new one, or nothing,” Ufert said. “And that would probably be the citizens that make that decision.”
Nathan Grimm may be reached at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @GrimmTelegraph.