Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a series of stories to commemorate Tawawa Park, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Today: Sidney Water Park.
SIDNEY — The Sidney Water Park has been a summer destination of area residents since 1953.
That’s when the first pool was installed in Tawawa Park. The 165-foot by 75-foot pool received major renovations in 1989. That’s when the slide pool and baby pool were added; however, the slide pool didn’t have slides until 2005, at which time in-pool fountains also were incorporated.
According to Sidney Parks and Recreation Director Duane Gaier, the operating budget for the park is $188,000 annually. That covers utilities, water, routine maintenance and clean-up, staff wages, chemicals and filtration supplies and liability insurance premiums. Sixty percent of those funds are taxpayer dollars from city coffers. The other 40 percent comes from admission fees.
The concession stand is self-funding at a budget of $36,000 per year.
In 2018, a summer-long pool pass cost $33. Daily admissions were $3.50 for children 1 to 5 and $4.50 for people 6 and older.
Operating hours were 1:30 to 7:30 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays; 1 to 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 6:30 p.m., Sundays. It took three concession employees, 22 part-time lifeguards, five front desk personnel and a full-time manager and assistant manager to keep things running.
“We’d like to have 27 lifeguards,” Gaier said. “It’s been a challenge to get them.” The fee to be certified as a guard is $200. If a guard completes two years of work at the Sidney pool, the city reimburses that fee.
In addition to guarding swimmers, the staff clean the pool and restrooms, empty trash barrels and put up and take down the flag each day.
Tony Wagner, a long-time manager who retired in 2011, laughs when he recalls some of the things that have been found in the pool.
“Fish, crayfish, crawdads. Somebody would throw them in at night. Or the crawdads would crawl in. Somebody jumped the fence and threw in a bunch of picnic tables and trash cans. The trash cans had trash in them, so they stayed upright, and the picnic tables float, so we just pulled them all out,” he said.
Wagner noted that the crew would always clean the area at night so that when the pool opened the next day, everything had been picked up and the area was ready to welcome people. That’s how, one day, Wagner knew a couple of folks had jumped the fence the night before.
“I found clumps of clothes (in the morning). Everything. Including underwear. They had taken their clothes off and gone skinny-dipping. They left their clothes there. Apparently, the police came and scared them off. I always wondered how they explained (why they were naked) when they drove home,” he said.
Mostly what the crew collected at night were wet towels, left behind by swimmers. But people also left their shoes, their wallets and their cell phones. If he could identify who owned the wallets and cell phones, Wagner call them.
He was the pool manager for 27 years. When he retired, the slides were dedicated to him.
“They have my name on them on a little plaque,” he said.
At the beginning of each season, a crew of workers assigned by the juvenile court scrubs the empty pools. Fresh water is put in.
“There were a couple of ducks, mallards, who would come and swim until we opened for the season,” Wagner recalled. “They would make it theirs until we opened.”
The main pool holds 502,875 gallons of water. It is 3 feet deep at its shallowest end and 13 feet at its deepest. The baby pool holds 13,425 gallons at a depth of 10 inches throughout. The slide pool, with 96,000 gallons of water, is zero-depth entry at one end and 38 inches deep at the other.
The total 612,300 gallons of water are filtered automatically. During the season of operation, chemistry tests of the water are done every hour, and the pool is inspected on a regular basis by the Shelby County Health Department.
The season runs from the Saturday after school closes in May to the Sunday before it starts in August. Sometimes, if weather is bad, the water park doesn’t open at all or closes early. In 2018, it was open 57 days, one day longer than in 2017 but eight days less than in 2016. This year, it was closed completely for just one day. There were 10 days of shut-down in 2017 and one in 2016. Partial day counts were 14 in 2018, and six in each of 2017 and 2016.
During the most recent summer, leaks were discovered in the slide pool.
“We had the pool professionally caulked. Then we found the leak in pipes to the water fixture. It was pumping water under the concrete,” Gaier said. Because the season was already open, pool officials had to let the leak go. It couldn’t be fixed without closing the pool.
What kinds of repairs and how much to repair are decisions the Sidney City Council must make. Their decision may be based on how many people use the pool. In 2018, 570 season passes were sold and 7,977 daily admissions sold.
“We don’t know how often a season pass is used,” Gaier said. But attendance was definitely down from two years ago, when daily admissions numbered 11,507 and 572 season passes were sold.
“When I first started, we’d get some big crowds. We’d put a thousand people a day in the pool. Toward the end, people got more (private) pools,” Wagner said. “It’s a beautiful place for a city the size of Sidney to have a pool like that.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.