Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation unveiled a proposal Tuesday for a $5.6 million expansion and renovation of Splash in the Boro Family Waterpark, including a wave pool attraction projected to cost almost $4 million.
Other parts of the project include a new beach-themed concession area and an expansion of the entrance area to accommodate people waiting for admission. Space will also be added in the winter bathhouse, including a dedicated first-aid station for year-round use. Replastering the aquatics pools and replacing their winter dome are included in the plan as major maintenance needs.
“One of the things about any amusement-type facility is you have to stay fresh in order to maintain the excitement of your patrons and keep people coming back,” said Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Rollins.
With no major upgrades since the 2008-09 expansion, the park has already gone longer than it probably should have to maintain that freshness, he told the county commissioners when they met over lunch in the department’s Fair Road headquarters.
Splash also needs to accommodate crowds better to keep from turning people off, Rollins said. That especially becomes a concern on Saturdays, when as many as 4,200 people pass through the park, while its capacity at any one time is 2,100. This summer, Splash has been at capacity most Saturdays, said Steve Brown, the department’s aquatics division manager.
Local people who see long lines may drive by without stopping, but visitors who make a long drive and then stand in line for two hours or more with children might decide not to come back, Rollins said.
“It’s hard to overcome from a customer service standpoint,” he said.
Room for 2,800
But with the expansion, 700 more people could be allowed into the park at any one time, increasing its capacity to about 2,800 patrons.
While the 19,500-square-foot wave pool and its associated tidal pools and pavilion would be the main new draw, the added beach concession would help serve the increased number of visitors. Changes to the entry area, including paving and landscaping covering roughly an acre, will ease congestion and allow families with children to wait farther from the street, improving safety, Rollins said.
Another reason for the expansion is competition from parks such as Surf Lagoon in Pooler and Sandy Beach at Macon, Rollins acknowledged.
Brown said the expansion, with the wave pool, will give Splash attractions more comparable to Summer Waves Water Park on Jekyll Island, which Rollins called “a destination spot.”
“This will put us a little bit in that category, but below the destination price,” Rollins said.
As was done in the fall and spring of 2008-09, the department wants the work done quickly, between the close of the current season and the May 2017 reopening.
Biggest Splash yet
The $5.6 million price tag is only an estimate. At that rate the expansion would cost more than either the $4.4 million addition that opened in May 2009, or the waterpark’s original $ 5.3 million cost before its June 2004 opening. But as Rollins notes, construction costs have climbed.
The 2008-09 expansion included a new entry area, the Mat Racer slide, the FlowRider, and a spray pad area with a pool for small children. After first financing it at about 6 percent interest, the Parks and Recreation Department obtained refinancing at a current rate of 3.75 percent.
Now, the department’s leaders hope to refinance, again, about $1.34 million principal remaining from the last expansion, and borrow a rounded $7 million to cover the refinancing and new expansion. Rollins cited projections that a 2 percent interest rate might now be obtained on a 15-year loan for this amount.
Speaking to the commissioners, he emphasized that Splash pays for its own upkeep and brings in more money. Its revenue is now averaging about $2 million a year with expenses of about $1.5 million.
To an average annual attendance of about 140,000 visits in recent years, the department projects that the enhanced waterpark would bring in from 28,000 to 30,000 added visitors from 2017 to 2021. This is based on a 20 percent increase in visitors, but the park received about a 40 percent increase after the 2009 expansion, Rollins said.
The printed proposal suggests adding $2 per person to the price of admission, but this has not been decided.
Splash in the Boro creates more than 200 seasonal jobs, mainly for youth in the 17-20 age bracket, for about 90 days each year. This and a $9 million economic impact estimate were included in the department’s pitch for the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ backing. Despite the “Statesboro-Bulloch” name, the department and its facilities are county owned.
First official step
“I think we need to move and move quickly,” said Commissioner Roy Thompson.
On a motion from Commissioner Carolyn Ethridge, seconded by Commissioner Ray Mosley, the commissioners unanimously approved having the aquatics design firm Markey and Associates develop more detailed specifications and conceptual drawings for a fee of $7,500. These will be used in a request for proposals from design-build contractors.
Meanwhile, the commissioners will look carefully at the financing options, said County Manager Tom Couch. He expects that the plans and financing can be brought together in 30 days or a little longer.
“We are already looking at a lease-purchase arrangement after talking to bond counsel, and examining the municipal borrowing markets to see what financing costs are likely to be,” Couch said in an email Wednesday. “I’m guessing mid-to-late August if everything comes together.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.