Not only did we want it, we wanted it yesterday. And we wanted it with enough bells, whistles, splishes and splashes to make Michael Phelps think inside the triangle.
Judging from Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Tracy might very well get the water park of its wildest dreams. But there might be a waiting period.
The city prioritized residents’ wish list for the aquatics center. The swim park’s anticipated construction budget of $13 million — $10 million from a controversial agreement with The Surland Cos. and the rest from other developer fees — demanded it.
So Aquatic Design Group — a consulting firm contracted by the city for $30,000 — provided city staff with mounds of data to help sort out what features would give Tracy the most bang for its limited buck.
The list: waterslides, a river for floating, a wet playground, a “sprayground” (think a souped-up Central Community Park in Mountain House) and, to tie it all together, an activity pool suitable for toddlers and toddlers-at-heart alike.
At the bottom of the priority list was a pool for recreation and swim lessons, a beach bum-friendly “waverider,” and a 52-meter competition pool.
Not all at Tuesday’s City Council meeting were pleased with the order — the 52-meter and rec pools were, after all, big public selling points. And no small measure of water center support came from swim-team parents.
But there’s good reason the list shook out the way it did.
According to Rod Buchanan, the city’s parks and recreation director, it’s the best answer to the simple question: What attractions will serve the most people while costing the city the least money to maintain?
Because not only does Tracy have a budget when it comes to construction, there’s future spending to consider, as well. Aquatics parks need landscaping, repairs, lifeguards and, if it’s to be a year-round attraction, energy to keep the water above freezing.
If the city is committed to having a water center — and it appears it is — it’s imperative the water center brings in enough revenue to pay for its own upkeep. If it doesn’t, the shortfall will have to be covered with money from the city’s general fund. That prospect’s a nonstarter, as the general fund already bleeds red ink.
Also thrown into the mix are the Pinkie Phillips Aquatics Center at West High and the Joe Wilson Pool. Though Joe Wilson will likely close this summer as a temporary, cost-saving measure, it will probably reopen for use eventually. And with plans in place to use underwater platforms to make West High’s competition-sized oasis suitable for youngsters’ swim lessons, the city already has traditional pool options.
All that gave Aquatic Design a tightrope to help Tracy walk.
“Our task is to work within the parameters that we’re given,” Buchanan told me Thursday. “Right now, in this budgetary climate, it’s trying to at least give the community the start of the project.
“Those first five elements were deemed … to be the top priority for construction that had the best likelihood of having high attendance and low operation cost.”
Buchanan said there’s plenty of reason to trust the findings of the consulting firm, which has vast experience turning water parks into ground-up successes.
“They have tens of tens of projects,” he said. “They’ve done forecasting on a number of these projects, and they’ve always been correct.”
Let’s hope that streak continues.
Aquatic Design’s crystal ball for Tracy says that a water park entry fee of $6.50 — $8.50 if you’re an out-of-towner — coupled with the warm-weather-only activity-pool centered complex will put the city in that revenue-neutral sweet spot while also giving locals an appealing place to play. That gives Tracy’s decision-makers good grounding to move forward, even though we’re only talking about a very educated guess.
And don’t despair if your hopes are pinned to a competition pool.
The City Council on Tuesday voted to include the waverider and the 350-day-a-year recreation and 52-meter pools in the aquatics center design plans. That means there’s a chance they’ll someday become reality — especially if the bids come back in the city’s favor.
According to Buchanan, bids for the park should be in by October 2011. Depending on what those estimates are, the priorities presented to the council on Tuesday could be tinkered with.
“We might actually be able to build or add another amenity,” Buchanan said.
Regardless of how those bids come back and what possibilities they allow, it will still likely be at least three years before Tracy residents dip their toes into the Ellis aquatics park.
For some, that’s likely too long a wait for not enough park. For me, it sounds like the right mix of patience and prudence.
• Contact columnist and associate editor Jon Mendelson at email@example.com.