Athens Review, Athens, Texas

May 17, 2013

RICH FLOWERS: The Splash Pad will be an asset to Athens, not a drain

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

ATHENS — The long, hot, summer is about to set in and there will be plenty of dog days between now and the time the Splash Pad opens.

  Athens’ newest attraction is expected to be ready for the first swarm of eager kids around the middle of August. Ever since the news broke last fall that the pad might be in the city’s future, there has been a buzz of excitement around the city. People around town have been acting like the folks of River City in the Music Man when Harold Hill sold them on the idea of a boy’s band. I’m anxious to see the cool spray of water, even though there’s no way you’ll see me in a bathing suit, slipping and sliding down at Kiwanis Park.

 Last year, the Athens Leadership Institute took the Splash Pad on as a class project and started working to make it a reality. The Kiwanis Club, who’ve for decades operated the park where the pad will be located, was soon committed to the effort. Kiwanis Park seemed to be missing a certain element after the swimming pool closed a few years ago. Short of hooking up a sprinkler in the yard, Athens kids didn’t have many places cool down in the scorching summertime. The metal rocket at the park is hotter than a firecracker in July.  When the Kiwanis Park pool closed in 2009, smaller children, or those who didn’t know how to swim, were left with no free place to play in the water.  

  The Splash Pad idea seemed to be the perfect solution to the problem — a place where kids could play in the water, without the liabilities of a swimming pool. When the idea was presented at a Kiwanis meeting last October, I remember thinking it was a cool idea.

  Once the green light was given, fundraising for the pad got off to a quick start. Money to fund the $220,000 pad has continued to come in chunks large and small. From $67 from a girl scout troop to gifts of as much as $20,000 from area businesses, the checks keep adding up. The Kiwanis Club, ALI, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and the contributors see it as a good thing to do for the kids who’ll no doubt be watching the progress of the construction as June and July drag on.

  Even as the pad becomes closer to becoming a reality, there are a few folks who would like to throw cold water on the whole project. The drought, and the need to preserve our precious resources, have caused some to speak out about the large amount of water that will be going down the drain.

  But, officials in cities that already have splash pads in operation testify that the new water attractions are much less expensive than maintaining a pool and use a lot less water. The giant pool at Cain Center, an asset to the community to be sure, takes 270,000 gallons to maintain. A Splash Pad, with water only about an inch deep, will use much less.

  In times of drought, when the city institutes some type of water restriction, the Splash Pad can simply be turned off until rains come. In 2011, for example, the city of Enid, Okla., posted that it was closing the pad until further notice. Then, in August 2012, the city cut back on Splash Pad hours because of dry conditions.

  When it comes to water conservation, I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. The city should use its water wisely, but not at the expense of a project that will give the next generation of Athens kids a safe, inexpensive place to beat the summer heat.

Rich Flowers is news editor for the Athens Review. He can be reached at rflowers@athensreview.com.