Aiken County pool could become splash pad

AIKEN --- To splash or swim?

That's the question in Aiken County as officials consider whether to convert the public pool at the county recreation center on Jefferson Davis Highway into a splash pad design.

"The kids love these things," said Assistant County Administrator Todd Glover, adding at a recent council committee meeting that when Augusta converted one of its public pools to a splash pad "their numbers just exploded."

Some county council members are concerned that converting the pool into a splash pad could eliminate swimming lessons. However, they were recently told that splash pads are often very popular and can be safer than pools because they are designed with zero water depth, reducing drowning risks. Splash pads were described at the committee meeting as similar to a playground that incorporates water features.

County officials say about $500,000 in sales tax money is available for improvements at the center so now is a good time to decide whether the pool should be converted.

Not everyone, though, favors a change. Chris Burckhalter, a lifeguard at the Aiken County Recreation Center pool, said converting the pool would put him out of a job by next summer.

"I would definitely be in favor of keeping the pool," he said, adding that he feels more people would use the pool if the center were renovated.

On a recent Tuesday, eight children were swimming at the pool. Mr. Burckhalter said that's an average number. He also said the number of those taking swimming lessons there also has decreased through the years, citing the center's deteriorating condition.

Joanie Smith, Augusta's aquatics division manager, said the transition of an old public pool on Highland Avenue into a splash pad has proven successful.

The Augusta splash pad was initially opened for a couple of weekends in September and again made available in May and is to stay open through this September.

Ms. Smith said the splash pad often has children lined up waiting to get in.

"It's been really good," she said of the demand. "We've had a great response."

The splash pad on Highland Avenue facility is for children 12 and younger and is open from 1 to 6 p.m. daily. She said there is a $1.50 charge per child, adding that a building at the site also can be rented.

It costs $2 per person to use the Aiken County pool.

Aleatha Ezra, a spokeswoman for the World Waterpark Association, said that she didn't have specific numbers but that in general it does seem splash pads are becoming more popular as municipal recreational offerings.

"As pools have gotten older and therefore they're more expensive to actually renovate than just replace, there has certainly been a trend toward cities introducing things like spray parks because of the interactivity nature of them and the fact that they have a different set of maintenance needs and they certainly are more modern. So there definitely is a trend toward it," she said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

AUGUSTA SPLASH PAD

Joanie Smith, Augusta's aquatics division manager, said so far this year Richmond County has collected $12,248 in revenue from the splash pad and renting of the building, and there have been 6,480 participants.

"We've had as many people at the splash pad as all of our summer pools combined," she said. "So it's just been very popular."