Cape Girardeau's Family Aquatic Center on track to open for summer

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Crews work on the deep end of the Family Aquatic Center leisure pool Monday at Osage Park in Cape Girardeau. Plans to open in May are on schedule. (Kit Doyle)

The construction crews putting together the Lazy River, part of Cape Girardeau's new Family Aquatic Center, have been anything but lazy this fall.

In July, Penzel Construction Co. won the contract to build the water park and expand the adjacent Osage Community Centre. The company faces two important deadlines on the project, which has a total price tag of $8.7 million. The first is to be ready to declare the aquatic center "substantially completed" in time for Mayor Jay Knudtson to cut the ribbon before he leaves office in April. The second is to have everything ready for use by the time the summer swimming season opens Memorial Day weekend.

"It is going to be completed as we had planned and under budget," said Dan Muser, director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

From Kingshighway, the concrete channel that will contain the Lazy River portion -- 700 feet of moving water in an 11-foot trench -- shows the outline of the water park. And the cinder-block building that will house concession stands, a bathhouse and entrance gate is also well underway.

The Family Aquatic Center is the showpiece project for $20 million worth of park improvements authorized by voters in April 2008. Voters approved a half-cent sales tax that will last 10 years to finance the parks program and pay for storm-water control improvements. Because of a favorable bid from Penzel, Muser said he was able to include almost every optional item on the blueprints.

"The people felt this was important and voted for it and enabled it to happen," Muser said. "It is something the public would like to see and there is a lot of excitement, especially when I tell them it will be open next summer."

Amenities for the aquatic center include:

* Four long water slides ranging from 64 feet to 177 feet long. The two smallest slides, 64 feet and 78 feet, were optional when the bids were being sought.

* A six-lane, 25-yard lap and leisure pool adjacent to a vortex pool.

* A shallow water play area that will have a gradually sloping entrance.

* 23 large "funbrellas" for shade as well as a picnic pavilion.

* A family changing area separate from the bathhouse.

Pipes that will provide the water propulsion stick out of the empty lazy river Monday while work continues at the Family Aquatic Center in Osage Park in Cape Girardeau.

The aquatic center will be a big plus for Cape Girardeau, Knudtson said, noting that he has been an advocate of the aquatic center since he was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in the mid 1990s.

"It was something we were committed to and unable to put together for various reasons," Knudtson said of the initial effort of more than a decade ago. "If it happens in March, or April, even if it is a little chilly, it would be a great feeling for me to be standing there. Even if it happens after I leave office, I will still be there and still have a big grin on my face."

For Knudtson, the aquatic center is more than a swim and play area.

"It speaks to the quality of life we have come to expect here," he said. "It is part of the regional branding we continually attempt to do here in Cape Girardeau and we are well along the way to solidifying our position as a regional hub."

Prices have already been set for the first year, Muser said. Children 12 and younger and senior citizens will pay $5 for a single day pass, while adults will pay $6. Full year passes will cost $125 for individuals and $200 for a family of four with $20 extra for each additional child. A child-only pass or a senior citizen pass will cost $100.

City manager Scott Meyer, who oversaw construction of a student aquatic center while facilities director at Southeast Missouri State University, said meeting the construction deadlines will require cooperation from the weather. While October rains caused some delays, he said the project is back on schedule.

To people who may not understand why the city is spending $8.7 million for a water park -- which some view as a luxury -- while unable to give city workers a raise, Meyer said he understands their concerns. But the aquatic center is being built with dedicated funds that cannot be spent elsewhere, he noted.

"We made an agreement, a bond with taxpayers, that if you pass this we will do this," Meyer said. "That is what is being done."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent Address:

1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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