Young Chris Robinson couldn’t contain his enthusiasm as one of the first to walk through the gates of the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center on Saturday morning.
"Whoa! Look at that big slide," Robinson, 5, marveled.
Youngsters and their parents took their first dip in the newly minted $16 million center on Saturday, with the Gainesville Parks and Recreation facility on Jesse Jewel Parkway getting rave reviews.
"It’s great," said Tacia Millsap, who brought her 5-year-old godson and 5-year-old daughter to test the waters. "It’s something for the kids and the whole family to come out and enjoy here in Gainesville, instead of going all the way to Atlanta."
Millsap predicted the center would get "lots" of use by her and her family.
"I want to come out myself and do some of the water aerobics and get my little girl started with swimming lessons," she said.
Besides a pair of three-story tall winding water slides, the center has an outdoor "Splash Zone" with 34,000 square feet of swimming area, including a "swirl pool," "lazy river," a play structure with water buckets, spray fountains and zero-depth entry.
Inside is a 10-lane indoor competition pool with seating for 300 spectators and a four-lane warm water pool with handicapped accessible ramps for water aerobics, hydro therapy and swimming lessons.
Then there’s the wellness center and a 4,400-square-foot meeting space.Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Melvin Cooper strolled poolside Saturday like a proud papa as he watched children frolic in spray jets and greeted the center’s first visitors. A formal dedication ceremony will be held Sept. 17.
"It has been a lot of work to get to this stage," said Cooper, who praised the cooperation between the city of Gainesville, the Gainesville school board and Hall County in making the center a reality. "Our staff has put a lot of work into this and we’re just glad we have birthed this baby here today."
"It’s such a great feeling," said Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Julie Butler-Colombini of seeing the center finally opened. "The community needs it, they wanted it and today’s finally here. Just to hear all these kids laughing makes it more real."
The center is named after Frances Meadows, Hall County’s first black county commissioner, who died in 2002 from leukemia at the age of 59 after serving 10 years as the District 4 commissioner. The facility was a longtime dream of Meadows, said her daughter, Kerri Robinson, one of several family members on hand Saturday.
"It’s amazing," Robinson said. "We were anticipating this day. My kids couldn’t wait, and I couldn’t wait. It’s just a wonderful facility. It’s going to be here for years and years and generations and generations."
Robinson had trouble putting into words the honor of seeing her mother’s name on the center.
"I can’t describe it. It’s so overwhelming," Robinson said.