SAN BENITO — Since officials closed the city’s beloved Olympic-sized pool nearly 12 years ago, many residents here have been panting to cool off on hot summer days.
As the days heat up, families are finally chilling down over double-dribble aqua spouts at the city’s first splash pad at South Park — opened about three years behind schedule.
Seven years after launching the project, city officials opened South Park two weeks ago — a $1.3 million playground on 12.5 acres featuring the $85,000 splash pad next to the city’s fire station on South Sam Houston Boulevard.
“Wow!” Melissa Hernandez posted on Facebook. “Super cool!”
Since the splash pad opened, Facebook has been buzzing with residents’ plans to take their children to the city’s newest attraction.
“Let’s take Carmie and Delilah,” Selena Garza posted. “The girls love it!”
The splash pad features an aqua arch, a double-dribble aqua spout, goal spout, blitz spout, a batter-up spout and a splash-o-later baby long legs, an official stated after its $85,207 purchase from Spring-based Kraftsman Outdoor Fitness.
Meanwhile, the city’s 10th park also features a half-mile walking trail, a playground, a covered picnic area including three barbecue pits, exercise stations and restrooms.
Crews still working on key features
Grants have played a big role in the park’s development.
To help fund the project, officials landed a $494,744 grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation and a $314,780 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
But crews are still working to add some of the park’s key features.
The park’s original blueprints called for two lighted soccer fields, bleachers and a concession stand.
Officials didn’t announce a timeline for the park’s completion.
More splash pads?
Now, officials are gauging residents’ responses to determine if they’ll build another splash pad.
“If the people like it and it’s being used safely, if this is a good investment for the people, hopefully we can bring it to the commission to see if we can fund a splash pad somewhere else,” Mayor Rick Guerra said.
Stookey Park, where crews continue to fill in the city’s old swimming pool, might become the site of the next splash pad, he said.
“If there’s space there, maybe we can do another splash pad,” Guerra said. “Ideas are flying right now. That’s what I told the people, give us ideas — not a swimming pool now but maybe another splash pad.”
Years of planning
For decades, residents had been calling for a park south of Interstate 69.
In 2014, a previous city commission, working with former City Manager Manuel Lara, voted to launch the development of the city’s first park serving south-side residents.
By 2016, crews finally began digging dirt behind the fire station.
A year later, commissioners launched plans to build a splash pad after a swimming pool’s hefty price tag — along with its high annual operating costs — placed that project on hold.
By 2018, officials were planning to open the park.
But changing plans — including the splash pad’s addition — kept pushing the project back.
Then last year, the coronavirus pandemic grinded work to a halt.
“There were various issues that caused delays, including the elaborate procurement process municipalities must adhere to,” city spokesman David Favila stated.
“But the biggest delay was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our contractors’ employees contracted the virus. Others opted to put the project on pause after the state limited the number of persons allowed to travel in one vehicle. Also, finding materials for the project became increasingly difficult. Mines, lumber mills and other industries shut down completely. Everything from electrical wiring to lumber and plumbing fixtures took months to arrive at the site because of the large backlogs at suppliers.”
For about 12 years, residents here have been waiting to cool down during the long, hot summer months.
In 2009, plumbing problems and a cracked floor led officials to close the city’s 27-year-old Olympic-sized swimming pool.
A year earlier, the city paid $132,250 to resurface the pool’s floor but the project failed to fix its cracked shell.