GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – A notorious Garden City landmark is getting overhauled and upgraded. 

The Big Pool was a historical centerpiece of Garden City that was open for nearly a century. The pool was the largest hand-dug public pool in the world when it was first built in 1921.  During its hay day, the pool held nearly 2.5 million gallons of water.

Twenty-eight months ago the prior Garden City city commission took up the issue of the future of The Big Pool and aquatics for the city.

It was determined The Big Pool couldn’t maintain operation. The city says the facility was losing nearly 200,000 gallons of water each day and required a budget of around $800,000 for the three-month summer season. This was a significantly higher budget than other departments that operated year-round.

“We had algae issues, we had water-loss issues, and we had expense issues,” said Jennifer Cunningham, Garden City Assistant City Manager.

The facility also faced challenges when chemically treating the water. Due to the large leaks, the pool had to continually be refilled and the water retreated. This led to nearly $110,000 having to be set aside to keep the pool clean. 

Taking into consideration many factors, the city commission decided to switch gears and build a new facility.

The $14 million dollar project, Garden Rapids at the Big Pool, broke ground last summer beginning construction in July after the expected 2020 final season of The Big Pool was canceled due to COVID-19.

Now, the new facility is gearing up for its first summer of pool-goers.

“We ended up meeting with about 6500 people. We had 4500 people including students fill out surveys about what they wanted to see the commission do, and this is it,” said Cunningham.

The aquatic center will feature a lazy river, zero-depth entry and competition pools, a children’s play area, and a splash pad among other amenities.

It’s also the first municipal-owned facility in the country to have Fly High Slides. These slides launch people nearly 10 feet in the air depending on a person’s weight and speed.

But there’s more.

“We are the first pool in the Midwest to have what they call the Slipstream which is this thin one, which you actually go down standing up,” said Aaron Stewart, Garden City Parks and Recreation Director.

The pool will hold nearly one million gallons of water, holding roughly half the amount of water compared to the former Big Pool. However, patrons will have a larger pool deck area than The Big Pool facility maintained.

The city says the pool has gained the attention of guests in neighboring states such as Colorado and Nebraska.

“In drawing people here, they’re going to stay in our hotels, they’re going to eat in our restaurants, and they’re going to shop in our shopping areas and they’re going to bring more sales tax into Garden City which is going to benefit all of us,” said Cunningham.

Stewart says the facility expects the prior daily attendance of 350 people a day to double and possibly triple.

“In my world of Parks and Recreation, that’s what we’re trying to do is engage people in the facilities to make them be more active,” said Stewart.

The new attraction will keep a touch of the old Big Pool alive. Before entering the Garden Rapids facility, guests are welcome to slide down memory lane on the iconic elephant slide. 

The main pool area is expected to open, weather-permitting, for Memorial Day Weekend on May 29. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony, giveaways, and free admission offered from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. 

The semi-private cabanas and splash pad will be added throughout the summer. The cabanas are expected to be completed by mid-July followed by the splash pad in mid-August.

For more information on the pool and admission, click here.