DECATUR — Fairview Family Aquatic Center on the city's west side will reopen for one more summer after winter weather delayed construction of a long-planned water park in Nelson Park, Decatur Park District officials said Thursday.
"Everything just slowed down," Executive Director Bill Clevenger said of the weather's impact on the construction process. "It wasn't for a lack of effort. Our contractors and construction manager Phil Cochran have done a great job managing the project. It's all weather-related."
The Fairview Park pool will reopen for another season starting Memorial Day, so residents will have access to a public pool this summer. Clevenger praised the park board's decision to winterize the pool in case of this type of situation despite officials anticipating its permanent closure last fall.
Board President Chris Harrison said the district had been optimistic about opening the $10.5 million project, known as the Overlook Adventure Water Park, this year. Ultimately, the weeks of frigid temperatures and severe weather made that impossible.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost eight weeks of workable days due to freezing temperatures and precipitation this winter and the future forecast isn’t looking much better,” Harrison said in a statement. “In the interest of providing the community with a premier aquatics facility and keeping safety top of mind, we want to be sure things are done right and not rush completion.”
The water park is being built next to the Overlook Adventure Miniature Golf complex, which includes a ropes course and Mister Softee restaurant. Park district officials have been seeking to fill another restaurant space in the complex that was vacated by CherryBerry in 2017.
Haley Huddleston, who operates the Mister Softee store, said that while the news about the water park's delay was disappointing, she also understands how inclement weather can act as a roadblock against progress.
Huddleston and her mother, Terri Chance, have co-owned the city's Mister Softee ice cream truck since 2013. The Overlook store opened last spring, and will return to the mini golf complex in April when it reopens for the season.
"We're just going to keep moving forward," Huddleston said. "It's business as usual ... and there's still a lot of exciting (park district) things happening."
Plans call for a lap pool, several types of water slides, a leisure pool and other attractions. Crews have spent months preparing the site off U.S. 36.
The park district’s construction manager, Cochran, said contractors have worked diligently, but issues that come with severe weather cannot be overcome. “This winter’s conditions have been some of the harshest for site construction we’ve had in many, many years,” he said in a statement.
Clevenger said inclement weather makes it hard for contractors to work with equipment outside, and also makes it tough to do things such as pour concrete or lay bricks. Contractors and the park district have worked to move the project along as quickly as possible, he said, but bad weather consistently forces them to adjust schedules.
Clevenger said Thursday's snowfall in Decatur was a recent example of how weather conditions can prevent the park district from making progress.
"It's another day where you can't really do too much work on a project," he said.
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The water park has been in the works since 2012. Funding comes from a $10.7 million alternate revenue bond to be repaid over 20 years. Thursday's announcement was the second time that the project has been delayed.
In October 2017, the park district's board of commissioners voted to break the project into three phases to save money after bids from five contractors came in too high, and doing so pushed the project's targeted opening date to spring 2019. Officials said delaying the project then was not only a way to prevent taxpayers from spending more money, but also to prevent the park district from rushing through the construction process.
The water park is a key aspect of the district’s long-term lakefront development plan, which seeks to transform the Nelson Park area into a hub of recreational activities. Another key component of the plan, the Devon G. Buffett Amphitheater, is on schedule to open May 24, the district said.
Two other construction projects have experienced the same weather-related delays, the district said: the Midstate soccer pavilion project on the city’s north side and the Scovill Zoo train extension, which will carry the zoo train around the Children’s Museum of Illinois.
The district said that it intends to complete those projects by “late spring 2019,” but weather will determine the timetable.
When asked why the park district couldn't make up for lost time in the coming months and still open the water park this summer, Clevenger said ensuring the facility is ready to open to the public goes beyond just building it.
"You have to fill the pools, and then you have to test them," he said, adding that pools in the state must by inspected and approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"By the time you add the inspection time and ensure all of the facility is functioning properly, you've added another week or two, and its opening will probably be estimated to be around August. By then, most of our lifeguards are headed back to school."
The park district said that the Fairview facility is currently hiring for lifeguards, instructors, front desk and concession positions. Clevenger said that when it's time for the Nelson Park facility to open, the number of lifeguards and other staff will have to be increased to accommodate its size.
While the Fairview pool has been a staple of the West End for over 50 years, Clevenger said the reason it won't remain open along with the new water park is due to the age of its facilities and equipment — which he described as "reaching the end of their useful life."
The cost of repairing or replacing many of the Fairview pool's aging amenities was determined to be unfeasible for the park district, Clevenger said.
By investing in the new water park, he said, not only does it provide a state-of-the-art facility for the community to enjoy, but it also will be something that's unique to Decatur and will attract people from all around.
"When the facility opens Memorial Day 2020, we're going to have a facility that we in Decatur can all be proud of," Clevenger said. "We want to provide that in a safe manner ... and we all need to pull together to end up with a facility that we're all going to look at, walk through the door and say 'wow.'"