Summertime isn’t quite here yet, but the water jets and the winding slides of the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center’s Splash Zone signaled Saturday that swimming time has arrived for area kids.
The Splash Zone — one of the featured attractions of the $16 million center — was not originally scheduled to open until the season began May 23.
But a spell of warm weather, and repeated requests, led officials to open the outdoor children’s swimming area three weeks early for weekend use.
"The weather got nicer quicker than we thought it would," said Jone Taylor, recreational division manager for Gainesville Parks and Recreation. "A lot of people were calling and asking, ‘when are you going to open, when are you going to open,’ Taylor said. "We decided, ‘we’re ready, let’s open.’"
The Splash Zone was sparsley attended Saturday due to threatening rain clouds, but officials expect it will become one of the major factors in boosting attendance and season membership. The 34,000 square feet of swimming area and deck space has a capacity for as many as 400 children.
Last year, the Splash Zone opened after the center’s completion on Aug. 30 and stayed open through the month of September. This will be the first full season the Splash Zone is in operation. It comes after the longtime Green Street pool has been phased out, during tough economic times that have families tightening their budgets.
"In parks and recreation, we provide opportunities, and this is just a great opportunity," Taylor said. "The price is good and fair — for $4 you can stay all day."
Sarah Eddy of Alto agreed that the Aquatic Center was a bargain.
Eddy took her four young children for some water-splashing fun Saturday.
"It’s great," Eddy said of her first impressions of the Splash Zone. "We plan on coming back."
The outdoor water park is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Daily passes are $4, and 90-day and annual passes also are available.