By CORINNE BOYER
Kansas News Service
GARDEN CITY — Garden City’s hand-dug swimming pool will not be filled for its 98th, and final summer season. The coronavirus is to blame.
However, the western Kansas town won’t be without a pool for long, as city commissioners approved up to $14 million on a new facility at the Big Pool site. It’s still not clear how the new pool will be financed.
Had the Big Pool opened this year, the city would have needed to make significant changes, said Assistant City Manager Jennifer Cunningham — things like hiring nine additional employees to keep up with COVID-19 sanitation protocols.
“We would have lifeguards and other staff enforce social distancing on the pool deck and in all of the pool areas other than when in the water,” Cunningham said. “Masks would be required by employees and patrons unless they were in the water.”
This was supposed to be the pool’s last year, despite the fact it loses 200,000 gallons of water per day.
In 1921, then-Garden City Mayor H.O. Trinkle asked the people to help dig the pool, Finney County Historical Society Executive Director Steve Quakenbush said.
“The mayor recruited help from all over — contractors, individual people, families,” Quakenbush said. Trinkle asked people to loan equipment and come with shovels.
Since opening in 1922, Quakenbush said records show the pool never missed a summer season.
“There were some times when they tried to even use it during the winter because they attempted ice skating on it a few times,” Quakenbush said, “until they found out that tended to crack the concrete.”
For decades, people of color couldn’t use the pool, though that changed in the 1950s.
Over the years, attempts were made to patch the Big Pool’s leak. But Garden City Mayor Troy Unruh said the commission made the decision not to repair the decaying structure.
“We knew that there was no way to fix that short of $3 to $5 million and you get nothing extra but the same structure,” Unruh said.
A new place to swim
Construction crews will demolish the Big Pool in August and build a new pool complex — with a lazy river, slides, obstacle course and competition pool — in its place.
Unruh said the public will have a chance to weigh in on the funding process during the next few commission meetings.
“There will be some decisions that will be made ... financing and then how that’s going to look and where we’re going to get the dollars from,” Unruh said. “We already know we have the Big Pool in our line-item budget.”
But the shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic could impact city revenue. According to the Garden City’s financial report for the first four months of 2020, city sales tax revenue was up by almost $51,000 compared to the same time period in 2019. But revenues from gas, telephone, cable and municipal court fees were all down.
“We’re not going to put our city or anybody at risk if it's not affordable,” Unruh said.
Despite closures caused by the coronavirus, Cunningham doesn’t suspect it will impact construction on the new pool.
“We have a couple other projects going,” Cunningham said. She brought up a voter-approved 30-cent county sales tax increase that will fund new exhibits at the Lee Richardson Zoo and for road and shooting range improvements and construction of a new fire station.
“It hasn’t been delayed or had any issues so far that I’m aware of related to COVID-19,” she said.
But if the city is still dealing with coronavirus next year, Cunningham said commissioners will have the same conversation before opening the new pool.
“I don’t think anybody knows if COVID-19 is going to have an impact (next year,” she said. “If it’s going to go away and come back, if it’s going to have the same impact when it comes back.”
Corinne Boyer covers western Kansas for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @corinne_boyer or email [email protected] The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.