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Garden City, Kansas
Garden City selected the team of Confluence, Water Technology, Inc., and Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture to guide them through design of a new aquatics facility. Through local participation, the team working with the city to prioritize aquatic attractions and amenities that would meet the expectations of the community while providing iconic attractions that would create a regional draw.
LocationGarden City, Kansas
The Big Pool in Garden City was originally opened in 1922. The pool was hand dug and measured an enormous 220 ft by 330 ft, earning it the title of “World’s Largest Free Outdoor Concrete Municipal Swimming Pool” until user fees were first instated in 2003. The bathhouse was built in the 1930s by the WPA, and a children’s wading pool was added around the same time. Numerous renovations were made in the early 2000s, including the addition of five slides, a plunge pool, and a bulkhead dividing the pool into north and south halves. By the end of 2018, the pool was losing 200,000 gallons of water a day and over $300,000 per year. The daily refilling of the pool meant it was always cold, further reducing the number of swimmers to just 330 a day. After surveying more than 4,500 residents, the city decided to go ahead with the planning of a new facility.
With the community’s input, the city chose the new name of “Garden Rapids at The Big Pool” to pay homage to the original Big Pool. They also decided on a color scheme of bright, bold colors, and a theme of playful animals in reference to the Lee Richardson Zoo located across the street. Many elements of the new facility pay homage to memories of the old, like The Big Pool’s iconic elephant slide, which was refurbished and relocated out front. The bathhouse was kept, but updated with new lockers, new shower stalls, and a men’s, women’s and family section.
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There is ample shade and seating throughout the facility, and there are new amenities such as a “lazy” river, a kid’s play structure, three diving boards, and a ten-lane competition pool. The “Slip-Stream” stand up slide was the first installation in the United States, and the two “Fly-Tyme” slides are the first municipal installations of a launch slide in the United States. The new facility also has lights in and around the pool, allowing for nighttime events like Adult Swim Night, Kid’s Night Out, and Dive-In Movie Night. Garden Rapids at The Big Pool officially opened on May 29, 2021, and has more than tripled its patronage since before the update.
The Big Pool earned it’s share of fame over the nearly 100 years it was in operation. In the 1950s, a choreographed swimming group from Michigan, named the Sea Sprites, performed in the pool. In the 1970s, bathtub races began as a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy. In the 1980s, a local resident taught wind surfing classes in the pool, and two Garden City youth became the first to ski atop the pool as a promotional stunt. Between the years of 1987 and 1994, two elephants from the neighboring Lee Richardson Zoo, Mochi and Chana, swam in the pool after it closed for the season, drawing crowds numbering in the thousands from as far as California. The elephant slide honors that event and was preserved during construction.
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