City officials on Thursday spoke in favor of adding new features to Hays Aquatic Park, with the hope of drawing more visitors and enhancing the experience for local families.

The water park opened in 2000, and both Hays city commissioners and Hays Recreation Commission staff agreed it’s time for a new attraction. A floating tiger in honor of Fort Hays State University, multi-use water play area for younger children, splash pad, flume slide and surf machine were among the options presented.

Commissioners spoke in favor of a possible multi-use play area in the zero-depth pool, which could include items such as sprinklers and water slides. The city plans to seek proposals from vendors to get an idea of what could be purchased within the city’s $185,000 budget.

“I think it would be great to have a multi-use attraction there, especially for the younger kids,” said Grant Lacy, aquatics director at HRC.

Lacy said he does not foresee significant safety issues with equipment that commissioners are considering, and it probably would not require additional lifeguard staff. The new playground would be located at the front end of the zero-depth pool, replacing HAP’s original starburst water sprayer.

A few other options — such as a flume slide in the lap pool or surf simulator machine — would exceed the amount the city has budgeted for improvements.

The tiger, which would squirt water from its mouth, is estimated at a cost of $6,000 and might be included in future improvements. Commissioners indicated a splash pad also could be considered again at a later time, possibly for a city park other than the swimming pool.

HRC and city officials met Thursday for an annual meeting to discuss swimming pool and sports complex operations.

The city has approximately $322,000 in a pool reserve fund leftover from the sales tax that funded construction of the pool nearly 20 years ago. The remaining funds were intended to be saved, allowing for future improvements to the water park.

Most play features at the swimming pool have a life expectancy of approximately 10 to 15 years due to the likelihood of developing rust, said Jeff Boyle, city parks director.

Hays swimming pools — also including Wilson Pool on 28th Street — experienced a decline in revenue and attendance during last summer’s swim season. Overall, HRC took a loss of approximately $54,500 for pool operations, $26,000 of which will be funded by the city due to a long-standing agreement.

“I really don’t mind seeing a loss at the pool, especially when I know it’s well-managed,” commissioner Lance Jones said. “It’s good for the kids in the community to have something fun to do.”

HAP attendance totaled approximately 48,200, down from approximately 53,500 in 2016. Wilson reported a total of almost 3,800 visits, down from 3,900 the year before.

The drop in attendance could be due, in part, to unseasonably cool weather and significant rainfall early in the summer, Boyle said.

“Then you look at June, and (attendance) was significantly lower,” Boyle said. “The trends are typically when the weather’s cold, the visitation is down.”

Boyle also said staff had collected admission prices from comparable Kansas water parks and found the city of Hays charges less than most for season passes. HRC currently charges $40 for a season pass, while the average at similar facilities is nearly $70.

Commissioners, however, seemed reluctant to the idea of raising fees, expressing concern that could adversely affect attendance.

“It certainly is a quality-of-life issue in this community, so I would hate to see anything that would drive that attendance down,” Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said.

For more from Thursday’s meeting, see Sunday’s Hays Daily News or watch