Officials: Water park needs $4.1 million in upgrades

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City parks officials persuaded the Denton City Council that a $4.1 million upgrade to Water Works Park be part of talks for the November 2014 bond election.

The council agreed during a work session Tuesday that three features — a wave pool, a concession stand and a four- to five-story, interactive play structure — be added to the list given to the nascent citizen bond advisory committee.

Denton’s Water Works Park has not had any new features added since it opened 10 summers ago. One slide was replaced after a motorist lost control and hit it.

Emerson Vorel, the city’s parks and recreation director, told the council that the original plan was for summer revenue from the outdoor park to subsidize the year-round operations of the indoor pools at the adjacent Natatorium. The aquatics facility was built together with the Denton school district and, in exchange for student access, the school district subsidizes half the losses, which are reaching about $777,000 annually, Vorel said.

After the concession stand was cut from the original construction project, the parks department offered limited concessions from a small trailer installed at the park. While the decision to cut the building was necessary, over time, it has proved costly in other ways, Vorel said.

Concession sales typically represent the second-highest revenue stream for a water park after admissions. Most water parks bring in an additional $2.50 per person, where Denton brings in 42 cents per person at Water Works Park, Vorel said.

In addition, the health department has told the parks department that the concessions trailer is no longer compliant and cannot be used next summer. Parks officials are planning for another temporary structure next summer to comply with the new health requirements, Vorel said.

Children older than 8 to 10 years old lose interest in the parks limited features, Vorel said. In fact, some of the city’s own recreation programs bypass it and take Denton youth to other water parks in the area, he said.

Through consumer surveys and other study, parks officials have determined that a wave pool would likely keep more teens at the park, along with adults who want to swim with their younger children, he said.

If a bond package is part of the larger package expected to go to voters in November, and approved, the parks department would likely take two years to get the wave pool designed and built before turning its attention to adding the other features. A multistory, interactive play structure would be appropriate for all ages, Vorel said, and would not replace the smaller structure that is already in the park.

Vorel conceded that some of the original attendance projections could not be reached because the city has a hard time opening the pools before Memorial Day weekend, usually because of the weather, as well as keeping it open after Labor Day weekend, primarily because of staffing shortfalls.

Many of the 190 employees needed to run the entire aquatics facility are high school and college students hired for the summer. They are back in class themselves by September, and sometimes the department enlists its own lifeguard-certified staff just to keep the park open through Labor Day weekend, Vorel said.

Council member James King noted that the park will continue to become dated without the improvements, while Dalton Gregory noted that attendance jumped at the Civic Center Pool after a slide was added there. In addition, Jim Engelbrecht encouraged the city to work with the Denton County Transportation Authority to add the park to a bus route in order to help boost attendance.

Mayor Mark Burroughs encouraged the parks staff to provide additional guidance to the citizens bond advisory committee, with cost estimates and priorities for each feature they would like to see added to the park.

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