New features coming to The Big Pool this year

Jennifer Cunningham, Assistant City Manager, shows a video featuring the new Aquaglide equipment that will be installed at The Big Pool. Cunningham presented the city commission with an update about preparations for this year’s swimming season at the pool.

By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications

Big things are planned at the Big Pool this year.

One of the biggest is the installation of an Aquaglide Challenge Circuit, a 42 feet by 32 feet sort of floating obstacle course apparatus designed to engage users in the pool.

Jennifer Cunningham, assistant city manager, said the idea spawned last year when she was thinking about ways to create excitement at the pool that would engage pre-teen kids or those kids who don’t want to hang out in the shallow end with their parents or siblings.

“I think this is going to be a game changer for some of our kids,” Cunningham said during a meeting with Garden City Commissioners in advance of their regular May 1 meeting.

Typically, this kind of equipment is seen on lakes but is becoming more popular at pools and resorts because kids are wanting something more to do, she added.

“This is probably the biggest change coming to the Big Pool in 2018. It creates a really fun environment. I think this is going to be fun, and there are some kids who will come to the pool just for this,” she said.

The Big Pool is scheduled to be filled on Monday, May 7, and life guard training will get underway May 11 – 13. Cunningham said 51 life guards have been hired for this season, a strong increase over last year’s 28 life guards, which should help the pool avoid under-staffing situations last summer that prevented the pool from being open every day. The pool will have two managers this year, rather than one.

“We’re certifying 12 new guards, people who have never life-guarded before, which is awesome,” Cunningham said.

After last season, the city conducted a 13-question survey of pool users recently through social media and received 337 responses from patrons. Staff used those responses and suggestions to make some changes to pool operation and add some new activities designed to make The Big Pool experience more enjoyable.

Based on the suggestions, Cunningham said the pool is working on developing a pass book to allow people to buy a certain number of passes at a time and use them at any point during the season. While it’s not ready yet, Cunningham expects it to debut this season.

The city also intends to take steps to keep the facility cleaner, install shaded tables in the kiddie pool and park area; keep the baby pool open; play “family friendly” music; maintain professional staff; and work on quicker response at the concession stand.

Other new things this year include:

  • More rental options including two person floats, goggles, dolphin kid floats and basketball hoop sets. “We’re just trying to create something so that kids have more to do. We’re adding a couple of play rafts into the baby pool. We had two prior ones, but we’re adding more,” Cunningham said.
  • Removing the requirement to pass a swimming test before being allowed to use the large slide. However, the pool will still require kids to be at least 48 inches tall to use the slides.
  • The splash pad area will have new hours from 9 a.m. to 7:30 or 8 p.m., and will have extended availability.

Cunningham said the pool will also offer more specialized events, such as working with the Garden City Recreation Commission to do a couple of movie nights at the pool. They also plan to have things like concerts, adult-only swim nights and other special competition-type event nights.

Cunningham broached the idea to commissioners about alcohol at the pool. It’s never been done before, she said, and would need to be controlled, offered only on adult-only nights for people 21 and older. It could be something in which tickets are sold allowing the purchaser a certain small number of beverages, she added.

“I don’t know exactly what it looks like but we have had requests for it for events, and … it’s a draw for people. Not that everybody wants to drink, but it’s something that people asked to do for events and could be one possibility — not something we do all the time, but maybe something we try once this summer,” Cunningham said, adding that she needs to do more research about the idea before bringing it to the commission for discussion.

Some of the concession stand changes this summer include partnering with LiveWell Finney County to add more healthy food options such as reduced calorie popcorn, trail mix, frozen grapes; stockpile more popular items while reducing the number of less popular items, offer a good range in prices and improve inventory management and sales analysis. Also, this year sales taxes will be included in concession stand prices.

To get the pool ready, city staff also performed a number of repairs, including the installation of new grate covers on all pool drains to fully comply with legal requirements; repair of lifeguard stands and ADA lifts; addressing a large crack in the deep end; cleaning plugged drains and sealing the walls and edges of the pool’s interior.

Staff is still working on setting pool hours and days of operation, the grand opening and other promotional opportunities. The city intends to use social media more frequently to provide updates about what’s going on at the pool this summer.

Cunningham said pool and city staff also want to improve staff communication and customer service, increase community awareness about events and those times when the pool might need to close due to weather, and increase attendance.

“I’m hoping with the new Aquaglide structure, the new rental equipment, new splash pad hours, maybe we just hit more people this year and get more people interested in it and excited,” she said.