In an effort to track how many people used the Ontario Splash Park over the summer, the Ontario Recreation District put a paper survey on the park’s fenced entryway for the past few weeks. According to responses, the splash park averaged about 60 people per day before school started up, dropping to about 40 after that.

I’m glad to see those numbers finally get tracked — however voluntary responses for a few weeks near the end of the season don’t quite paint the details of the three months the park was open. I hope that next year, we can get a more complete picture perhaps made possible by tasking the youth who staff the facility with tracking people as they enter, such as with a hand-held counter.

Still, it made my soul very happy to drive past the facility and see so many people using it each day with little exception, such as a couple of out-of-place cold fronts that kept everyone indoors for a few days in the beginning of June. The splash park was constantly full of children, of course; however, every time I drove by I saw that there were all ages, including teenagers, parents and grandparents. They were enjoying a reprieve from the summer heat — it was evident by all the smiles on their faces.

The splash park was the result of a lot of hard work and donations of money and services from the community made possible by a dedicated group of citizens who organized as a grassroots group to bring back the aquatic center. Friends of the Aquatic Center formed in 2013, shortly after the city’s pool committee dissolved.

The aquatic center has been closed since September of 2013, and I was glad to read an article in today’s paper about how the newly formed recreation district is looking at what it will take to reopen the facility.

I’ll be the first to unapologetically admit I want the pool to reopen: having been a regular user of a public pool growing up in my hometown, I know first-hand how beneficial they can be for communities, from water rehab and exercise opportunities to swim lessons and just plain recreating. A recent conversation with a local parent also drove home the importance of a place for swimming lessons for youth who live in a community surrounded by water — countless ditches, four rivers and plenty of other bodies of water.

Twice since its closure, the community has been surveyed regarding the aquatic center, the first time in 2015 when a Portland-based company asked 300 people about their satisfaction before the closure and possible renovation ideas. An overwhelming majority said they would like to see a renovation and expansion of the center, and favored adding an outdoor swimming pool and recreation center.

Another survey in 2016 conducted by the Friends had more than 700 respondents who overwhelmingly said they wanted to see the aquatic center reopen and included such lofty dreams as a slide, a diving board, concessions and a picnic area.

By then however, the city had been holding in a pool fund had been moved elsewhere in the budget, so they had to start from scratch.

That’s when the idea of a splash park was born, as it would be a more affordable first option.

Previous estimates to repair the boiler and ventilation system, which led to the aquatic center’s closure in the first place, ranged between $500,000 and $750,000 and in 2013, it was estimated it would cost about $2 million to completely renovate the pool.

Surely that price tag has risen. Now that more time has gone by, which included a hefty winter with snow loads that destroyed many buildings and structures in the area, I’m glad to know that the recreation district is looking at getting the structure re-surveyed.

Even still, I’d like to think the community could help get the pool reopen. The budget for the new recreation district won’t be enough alone to do so. But when the Friends launched a fundraiser for the splash park in 2017, the community came up with more than three-quarters of a million dollars to get it done. I’d like to think we can rally to get reopen the pool, too, as it is something that will serve even more citizens.

Should another survey be done to see what people want? Probably not, as it’s clear by the success of the splash park that if a quality water facility is here, the citizens will use it.

I do hope that those interested will take the reins on this project and move it swiftly into the foreground for Ontario.

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