The Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center will make its first splash just in time for Labor Day weekend.
The $16.2 million aquatics megacenter opens at 10 a.m. Saturday after years of planning and about 14 months of construction.
The department has hired about 50 lifeguards, fitness instructors, concession stand cashiers and front desk employees to work part time in the facility, which will operate its outdoor pools on extended hours through the middle of September.
Two winding slides stand over 34,000 square feet of outdoor swimming area, complete with a lazy river, a play structure, spray fountains and zero-depth entry — a Splash Zone that makes it nearly impossible to stay dry.
The facility on Jesse Jewell Parkway was modeled after different aquatics facilities in the Atlanta area that have been successful, such as Gwinnett County’s Mountain Park Aquatic Center and Bogan Park, said Julie Butler-Colombini, marketing coordinator for the Gainesville parks department.
It will be dedicated to the late Hall County Commissioner Frances Meadows in a Sept. 17 ceremony.
Originally, parks officials had hoped to have the center completed by July, but with the later opening the parks department decided to add some extra hours to the outdoor pools’ operating time to make the most of the center’s first summer season. From Monday to Thursday, kids can play in the Splash Zone from 4 to 7 p.m., and until 9 on Fridays.
The outside Splash Zone will stay open, operating with the extended hours, until at least Sept. 14, and reopen in May when schools let out for summer vacation, Butler-Colombini said.
Indoors, the center boasts an Olympic-sized competition pool, which is 25 yards by 25 meters, and a smaller four-lane instructional pool.
The smaller pool, which is heated to about 85 degrees, can be used for physical therapy, water aerobics and makes it possible for the department to offer swim lessons all year.
Already, Lanier Aquatics has two swim meets planned at the center’s 10-lane competition pool, and there will be room for approximately 300 spectators to watch from raised stadium seating.
The new center has some state-of-the-art features that Butler-
Colombini said the department is proud of. Nearly all of the water used in the center’s pools — about 97 to 98 percent of it — is recyclable, Butler-Colombini said.
Although the temperature of both pools is regulated to stay above 80 degrees, a dehumidification system eliminates the chlorine smell and keeps the humidity down, ultimately making swimmers and spectators more comfortable, Butler-Colombini said.
"You don’t feel like you’re in a sauna. You feel like you can breathe," Butler-Colombini said.
Aside from swimming, the center will offer various fitness classes and has 4,400 square feet of meeting space with a catering kitchen that can be used for business seminars and leisurely receptions.
"We try to reach as much of the population as we can," Butler-Colombini said.
Most of the facility was paid for with an $11.7 million loan, Gainesville’s Chief Financial Officer Melody Marlowe said. The city will repay the debt with property tax revenue it receives from its debt service millage, which was increased in 2006 from 0.18 to 0.54 mills to pay for the Frances Meadows center as well as a new downtown parking deck. The rest of the funding came from sales tax revenue from SPLOST IV and other city funding.
Parks officials will have to wait and see how much it will cost to run the center or whether it will bring any returns, but Butler-Colombini said a little more than $750,000 has been budgeted for this year’s operational expenses.
"Until we’ve been fully operational for a year, we’re really just estimating," she said.