Does the almost 25-year-old Lake Lisgar Water Park have a viable future in Tillsonburg?
At what price? What are the options? Is it more feasible to replace it with a splash pad? Or multiple splash pads?
These are the questions the Memorial Park Revitalization Advisory and Recreation and Sport Advisory Committees considered before making a recommendation to Tillsonburg Town Council to replace the water park with a splash pad. Council, after hearing from a representative of the joint committee, and Rick Cox, Director of Recreation, Culture & Parks, and considering earlier consultation reports, requested a more detailed report and recommendations from Cox and town staff.
With an online petition circulating to “Keep the Tillsonburg Water Park” (which currently has more than 1,900 online ‘signatures’), The Tillsonburg News recently asked Cox what some of the options are, as presented to Council, and how much they would cost the Town.
Understanding that almost anything can be ‘repaired’ or ‘replaced’ if enough money is put into the project, he said Council’s decision will essentially be based on ‘what’s the smart decision?’
To keep operating the water park in the long term, there are three options, each with a different price point. Repair, refurbish, or re-imagine.
“With respect to the outdoor facilities, Town Council needs to decide if the water park operation is feasible,” said Cox. “And the definition for feasible is up for discussion.
“Assuming it is decided to be feasible… we need to spend about $4.5 million, given the refurbishment is about a $4.5 million project using the numbers that the architects have given us. They are high level estimates, which includes about $1 million for the wet (elements), and $3.5 million for replacing the building with a modern building, with proper accessibility.”
If Council elects to go with the ‘Repair’ or ‘Rewind the Clock’ option, which would not be a true refurbishment – it would be fixing whatever is there, including repointing brick and painting. Not changing anything, just improving its condition. The ‘re-do whatever is there’ option would cost about $1.5 million.
A water slide replacement would be required for both of those options.
“To replace the slide, which we would have to do in any of the (water park) scenarios, is about $300,000.”
At the core of the Water Park is a 70-year-old building, but the ‘rewind the clock’ option could add another 10 years to the building, and it would include a brand new water slide which typically lasts 25 years.
“When a new slide goes in, the manufacturer says, ‘this has a 25 year life cycle, given proper maintenance.'”
The current water slide, which had a 22-year life, would have been 25 years old in 2020. Basically it had reached the end of its anticipated lifespan.
“We’re at a situation where next year we’d be working on a slide replacement plan anyway according to a typical asset management plan.”
A re-imagining, which Cox suggested could be a $5 million project or more, could potentially include elements like a second water slide, a lazy river, or theme (eg. Jurassic Park).
“If it’s feasible, whatever feasible is, we can make it ‘look new again,’ we can make it ‘modern,’ or we can make it ‘something special’… at different price points.”
With those three water park options on the table, the Memorial Park Revitalization Advisory and Recreation and Sport Advisory Committees recommended replacing the water park with a splash pad.
“I don’t want to put words into their mouths… but they felt that given the context of demographic changes we’re seeing, trends in the industry, global warming, all those things, as well as competition from splash parks in other municipalities – and potentially even in our own municipality – all of those things, they felt that in addition to the price tag of the capital side of it, because that’s just the capital side, you’re still going to operate it on a losing basis every year… and maintaining it, they felt that it was a better value to the community to do something different with that space. That was the committee’s recommendation to Council.”
It was debated by both committees, he said, and it went back and forth.
“Their recommendation to Council was to demolish and replace the water park with a splash pad facility in that location.
“We know that our operating model at the water park costs the taxpayers money every year, and has for the last decade and a half. That level of annual subsidy would be appropriate to consider being needed to support a splash pad operation because you’re still going to be putting water through it, and you still need to clean it, and you still need to check it every day.
“Splash pads are not maintenance-free,” he noted. “And there is no revenue stream attached to it – unless you’re doing a Wally World level splash pad, you’re not going to charge admission to it. Council could direct me that way, but I have never thought of it. If I was to be asked that question, no, I would not recommend us build a Wally World level splash pad, and assuming we’re not going to do that, I would not try to create an admission base around the splash pad. But that’s me, Rick Cox. Council will make its decisions.
“There are some places that are talking about putting in coin-op sprays, or swipe cards. It’s functionally possible, but I haven’t seen that go anywhere. Anything is possible, but I certainly wouldn’t advise it.”
An advantage for splash pads, said Cox, is that they can be open longer each year – from early summer, or even late spring some years, into the fall. Whereas the Lake Lisgar Water Park, partly due to school schedules and hiring lifeguards, is only open from mid June until Labour Day weekend.
Cox anticipates presenting Council a detailed report at its first September meeting. Depending what route Council decides to take will determine whether the water park will operate next year as it is this summer.
“What we are doing now, we could do – barring any unforeseen things – for probably another season. We’ve got 20 (plus) years out it so far, we can probably get another year out of it. We have a non-operational water slide and we have a roof that needs to be replaced. If we’re going to use it for more than a year or so, we’re going to need to think about the roof.”
Money is being spent on the water park, Cox stressed.
Last year, a list of repairs were tendered (not including the roof) that would have been in the range of $550,000. Less money was available in the budget for repairs, so out of 22 tendered items it was scaled back to prioritize eight items, staying within their $200,000-plus budget.
“Council has asked for more information to help them make their decisions. They are very, very aware that decisions have to be made… they just want to make informed decisions.”
Earlier, Town Council indicated its support of a splash pad in town after being approached by the Tillsonburg and Area Optimist Club. Fundraising began, but a location has not yet been determined.
“Kudos to Michelle (Wegg) and her team – a committee of concerned individuals – who are willing to go out and fundraise… for stepping up and saying ‘if we want to do this, we have to contribute time, effort, whatever.’
“Nothing that Council is considering with respect to the water park should take anything away from that community contribution or the work Michelle and that team has done. The two processes, if that’s the right word, were in parallel and they will cross because at the end of the day, it’s part of the discussion of the feasibility of the water park.”
It was identified in the Town’s Recreation Master Plan back in 2011 that splash pads ‘are part of the future of outdoor aquatics,’ he noted. At that time it was identified that those two recreational facilities, splash pads and the water park, would need to be discussed and decided upon.
Now it’s not just a philosophical discussion, he said, the bricks and mortar aspect has come into play.
Multiple options for splash pads are available. One option would be building 2-3 smaller pads around town that would make them more accessible. Or the Town could keep the ‘water park model’ with one big splash pad as a ‘destination size’ that would attract people from Tillsonburg and out-of-town. Or some combination of the two ideas.
“To me, splash pads in other municipalities…. are like playgrounds. You put a little one in many places so it’s close by to your neighbourhood, then you put a bigger one, a community-level park, where you would go for a special day. So there could still be the potential for smaller splash pads in addition to a bigger splash pad. And that’s why it does not take anything away from what they (Optimists) are doing.
“It’s a legitimate discussion,” said Cox, “to say ‘we want little splash pad parkettes in four locations around town, and not do a splash pad in Memorial Park… or we want both of those things, possibly.
“At the end of the day, in my armchair theory approach to this… there is capacity in the Tillsonburg community to support a core, larger splash pad and at least one, maybe more than one, neighbourhood splash pad parkette. It would still need Council support, approval, and funding and all of that kind of stuff.
“What is feasible? I don’t know. I think Council, obviously, has some hard decisions to make.”