Making waves: City’s aquatic park to stay closed for now

Ashley Riley enjoys a swim in the city pool near the end of the 2019 season last August. The pool isn’t opening anytime soon due to restrictions in place from the governor’s office.

Area residents dreaming of making waves this weekend in the cool, blue water at the Leonard Park Aquatic Center will have to keep dreaming.

The facility at 1000 W. California St. typically opens for its summer season Memorial Day weekend. Monday, May 25, is Memorial Day. However, because of orders from Gov. Greg Abbott to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it will not be opening this weekend.

According to an executive order by Abbott, swimming pools are allowed to “operate at up to 25% of normal operating limits as determine by the pool owner.”

A May 18 revised post on the state’s website says that while visiting pools is OK, people must continue to avoid interactive amusement venues such as water parks and splash pads.

City Manager Barry Sullivan said the city’s aquatic center is considered a water park by the state.

“With all our amenities we are considered a water park,” he said. “He [Abbott] clearly states a water park cannot be open.”

The facility, which opened in 2013, features an 18-foot water slide, drop slide, diving board and climbing wall, according to a previous Register report.

Sullivan said he doesn’t know when or if residents might be able to take a dip in the pool this summer.

“Once we get the permission it’s going to take us probably three weeks to reopen it so it’s getting less and likely,” he said of the center’s reopening. “So it’s getting to where it’s less and less likely.”

Sullivan said members of the Gainesville City Council want to reopen the aquatic center, if possible.

He said if the city is only allowed to open at 25% capacity, it could cost the city an estimated $90,000. If the city doesn’t open the water park at all this season, only about $33,000 would be lost. Last year, the public facility closed Aug. 11.

“So, those are the types of decisions the council is going to have to make,” Sullivan said.

He said if the water park can open with the same number of people as last year, it will only cost the city $33,000, which is what the city planned to spend on the pool.

Life guards are the largest cost for the water park, Sullivan said.

“It does not matter how many people are in the pool, if a water slide is operational there has to be a guard on top and a guard below,” he said. “The play area has to have a guard and there [has] to be a guard located at certain areas no matter the occupation.”

A post on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website states “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.”

COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Follow the Gainesville Daily Register online for updates as the situation surrounding the coronavirus is developing.

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