AP NEWS

Making a bigger Splash

November 23, 2016 GMT

Construction workers at Splash in the Boro are building the framework that will hold in place the wave pool, the heart of an almost $5.7 million expansion meant to propel a tsunami of new visitors into the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department’s waterpark.

“We’re right on schedule,” said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Rollins. “We’re just doing all of the things typically that you have to do at this time of the project. Some of the building construction is beginning, and they’re doing layout, and the architects are still doing some of the pre-design work.”

Because a design-build approach has been taken, detailed planning continues through this phase right up to the construction of new features, he said.

Lavender & Associates, based in Statesboro, is general contractor on the $5,683,270 project. Markey and Associates, the Kennesaw-based aquatics design firm that designed previous Splash projects, is engineering this expansion. Swimpro Aquatics will install the actual pools.

Despite a lot of very hot days – which aren’t always good for attendance – the summer of 2016 turned out to be a good season for Splash, which drew about 125,000 visitors, Rollins said.

“We just hope to build off of that with this expansion,” he said.

He and other departmental and county leaders hope the expansion will bring new peak attendance numbers and help the 12-year-old facility fend off competition from waterparks such as Surf Lagoon in Pooler and Sandy Beach at Macon.

Splash in the Boro established its record attendance of more than 168,000 visits in 2010, one year after the last expansion was completed. In recent seasons 130,000 to 140,000 visits have been typical. These numbers are estimates, and guests who come back multiple times in a season are counted each time they visit.

Wave pool and more

Other features to be added include a new beach-themed concession area and an expansion and redesign of the park entrance area. An addition to the winter bathhouse, or aquatics building, will include a lobby expansion, meeting space and first aid station.

“That will benefit our year-round programming, to make that space a lot more user-friendly,” said Steve Brown, Parks and Recreation’s aquatics division manager.

But the biggest addition by far will be the 19,500-square-foot wave pool and its associated tidal pools and pavilion. These alone would cost about $4 million.

“The wave pool is what people have been asking for since, heck, ever since we’ve been open,” Brown said. “Since 2004 we’ve heard, ‘When are you guys getting a wave pool?’ So this is the thing that really adds to our attractiveness.”

Big investment

Without adjusting for inflation or factoring in loan costs, the current project is Splash’s biggest capital investment yet, exceeding the $5.3 million spent on its original construction and features, as well as the $4.4 million cost of the addition that opened in May 2009.

“One of the things about any amusement-type facility is you have to stay fresh in order to maintain the excitement of your patrons and keep people coming back,” Rollins told the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners during a special meeting in July.

Meeting that day at the Parks and Recreation headquarters, commissioners gave the project a unanimous go-ahead. They have since approved borrowing $7.4 million, through a certificate of participation in Association County Commissioners of Georgia financing similar to bonds, to cover the project cost plus the refinancing of about $1.6 million debt remaining from the last expansion.

The effective interest rate is 2.1 percent, significantly less that the earlier loan, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch. This summer, the old rate was reported as 3.75 percent.

Rollins referred to Lavender as the only bidder. A request for proposals in the design-build approach was used, and more than one firm submitted a proposal, but at least one was ruled out for wanting to do only a portion of the project, Couch said.

A county document from Sept. 14 lists the bidders as Lavender and Associates and a company called Arizon Structures, with a notation that Arizon “did not bid the full package,” being interested only in installing a dome. The document states that nine bid requests were emailed Aug. 17 and that 13 were emailed upon request after bid advertising.

Firms were asked to fit the project to the available funding, Couch said. With the design-build approach, “value engineering” was done, with some elements substituted or removed, he said.

Although all the new features remain in the project, major maintenance elements that the department proposed were removed to be funded on a “pay-go” basis from the park’s revenue, Couch said. Rollins confirmed that the planned replastering of the aquatics pools and replacing their winter dome are waiting.

Admission fees paid by visitors are projected to repay the cost of the expansion.

May 20 target

Although the wave pool will be the biggest attraction, changes to the entry road and entrance plaza will improve safety and create a more appealing area for guests waiting on peak days, Brown said. The project is designed to increase the park’s capacity from 2,100 guests at a time to 2,800.

Splash’s 2017 season opening is slated for May 20, when officials say the new features should debut, provided that weather or unforeseen circumstances don’t cause delays.

A new seasonal attendance record is the goal, Rollins confirmed.

“This expansion will stir the excitement, and we expect to have a really good year next year,” he said. “If we don’t have any major hurricanes come through, we’ll be in good shape.”

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.