DECATUR — The Decatur Park District made it official on Wednesday: There will be a new water park at Nelson Park set to open in 2018.
Exactly what will be in that water park is still up for discussion.
The unanimous vote from the park board at Wednesday's meeting was specifically “to approve the third of three Decatur aquatics concepts and direct staff to enter into contracts with the engineer and begin the design and licensing phase,” according to park district attorney Ed Flynn.
That proposal, presented by aquatics consulting firm Counsilman-Hunsaker, was the $9.2 million Overlook Adventure Aquatics Park. The board will approve final design plans and construction contracts after more discussion.
The park district will run the Fairview Park pool for the 2017 season, then plans to close it and open the new Nelson Park location in May 2018. Eventually, the Fairview pool will be demolished and the area repurposed.
For the park district, it’s been a long journey to this point. The lakefront development project was first hatched in 2008, and a water park was first mentioned publicly in 2010.
“That’s been one of those issues that reaches back a number of years where it’s been on the master plan and we’ve always tried to keep the needle moving forward with it,” park district Executive Director Bill Clevenger said. “I think the district recognized the need to keep the community moving forward with amenities that people who live here are going to be interested in using, and people considering relocation here are going to be interested in.
"It’s another piece in making Decatur a great place for families to live.”
The water park will be funded by a $10.7 million alternate revenue bond, to be repaid over 20 years. Park district Chief Financial Officer Rodney Buhr said it’s in the district’s budget to repay the bond without cutting out other park improvements or, most importantly, raising the tax levy.
The district raised its rate to $1.15 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation (EAV) last year. EAV is a third of the property’s value minus exemptions. For a $50,000 home, the average tax bill would be $122.52.
Buhr said despite $100 million in lost revenue because of sinking property values from 2012 to 2014, the district has raised its rate just 16 cents in the last 20 years, and could -- without a referendum -- raise its rate 50 cents to $1.65. But Buhr isn’t recommending an increase, and board members all said they’re not interested in raising it.
“Past boards have worked hard to keep it down,” Commissioner Jack Kenny said.
“The current board is going to work to keep it down,” Commissioner Chris Harrison added.
For the aquatics facility, the park district considered three options presented by Counsilman-Hunsaker at a public information meeting Oct. 11. Option 1 was to renovate the current pool at Fairview Park for $5.3 million, with total reconstruction delayed 15 years; option 2 was to replace the Fairview pool with a $7.5 million cost; and option 3 was the $9.2 million Nelson Park concept located directly east of Overlook Adventure Mini Golf.
In discussions by the board at the next board meeting Oct. 12 and another special meeting Oct. 25, it became clear option 3 was the preferred choice.
The Fairview location has a 25-year-old pool and a bath house built in 1966. Renovating it was an expensive short-term solution.
Replacement at Fairview would only be $2 million less than the more expansive Nelson Park option and would be limited by available space at the Fairview Park location. There would be no room for additional amenities or parking.
The park district saw the Nelson Park water park option as another major attraction to add to its growing list in that area. There’s already the mini golf course and will soon be a new playground, ropes course, batting cages and the $4 million amphitheater thanks to a donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The original Counsilman-Hunsaker mock-up for option 3 included a 10,048-square-foot leisure pool with zero-depth beach entry and children’s play structure, tot features, two water slides and a crossing activity; a 3,150-square-foot, six-lane, 25-yard lap pool with zip line and two 1-meter diving boards; and a 1,693-square-foot plunge pool with bowl slide, drop slide, climbing wall and rope swing.
Commissioners were quick to point out that the mock-up wasn’t the final design. Clevenger said the district would begin conversations with Counsilman-Hunsaker on creating a design proposal. It would then be tweaked based on feedback from the commissioners before formal approval, followed by the bidding process.
Clevenger said the planning process would last four to five months, with late April or early May as the start date for construction.
“That’s why it was important to keep the process moving along if we wanted to have it ready for 2018,” Clevenger said.
Commissioner Stacey Young voted in favor of moving forward with the project, but said she’d like to see it done in phases.
The other commissioners, though, felt it made more sense to fund and build it now to avoid construction cost inflation, higher interest rates and the costs associated with adding on to recent construction.
Commissioner Chris Riley said he felt the park would have more impact as a finished product.
In addition to approving the aquatics center, the board approved the 10-year capital plan and fees for 2017. There were no major changes in fees, though there were 25-cent increases for the zoo carousel and train rides, Decatur Indoor Sports Center daily passes and daily Fairview pool admission.
Buhr also discussed the tax levy with the board, with a vote coming at the Nov. 16 meeting. Buhr recommended to keep the rate the same at $1.15, with an expected levy of $9,602,543. He said with Macon County estimating a 2.5 percent increase in property values, the park district would collect an additional $235,023 compared to last year. Property values increased 0.42 percent last year after three straight years of decline.