The Hays City Commission during discussions Thursday was divided over whether to purchase a new child’s playground structure for the zero-depth entry of Hays Aquatic Park, 300 Main.

At a cost of $185,000 — the maximum budget for a potential project — city and Hays Recreation Commission staff recommended a structure with 14 play features, including two slides and a large bucket drop. The structure would replace a starburst water sprayer in the zero-depth pool that has fallen into disrepair.

Mayor James Meier and Commissioner Sandy Jacobs spoke in favor of moving the proposal on to next week’s meeting for a possible vote. Vice-Mayor Henry Schwaller IV spoke firmly against the proposal, saying he believes the city’s money could be better spent with further planning.

The need to possibly enhance the park’s features was discussed during a January meeting between city and HRC officials. The aquatic park has been facing declining revenues and attendance, and it was suggested adding more features could help draw back visitors who might be visiting other area water parks. Any proposal to increase admission rates in efforts to increase revenue could backfire, Schwaller said.

“We’re in a community that since the pool was built, our wages have stayed flat,” he said. “People are not wealthier than they were when this pool was built. The second problem is attendance is down. So we’re getting whipsawed … on perhaps our revenue side, and we don’t have enough people going. So this was our attempt to rejuvenate the pool.”

Schwaller said he doesn’t think the proposed addition would be enough to significantly increase attendance over a long term, and spoke in favor of conducting a survey or seeking feedback from residents to better understand what they want at the pool and how much they would be willing to pay.

A long-term plan could help the city achieve bigger projects at the pool, he said, with previously discussed possibilities including a splash pad and a large water slide into the lap pool.

Meier said he thinks the city could move forward with the new child’s playground as proposed, and still continue discussions about long-term plans and future projects at the aquatic park.

“We need to do something. We need to change, improve,” he said. “That was the part that I remember, and also that we are limited in what we can do not only because of cost, but because of space constraints.”

The city has approximately $321,500 remaining from a sales tax that was initiated many years ago to pay for construction and maintenance of Hays Aquatic Park. The project would be paid from that fund, but Schwaller also expressed concern with taking such a large portion of that money.

“This was not inspiring, and given the small balance in the fund that’s really used to maintain things like the boilers, which we know will have a short life — they at best have a 20-year life,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that are going to need to be fixed. I’m very hesitant to use the funds with this.”

Jacobs also spoke in favor of moving the possible purchase on to next Thursday’s agenda for a formal vote.

“I never had an expectation — I would love it if (the pool) made money. Do I think that’s absolutely necessary for us to have the aquatic park? Absolutely not,” Jacobs said. “It’s a quality of life issue and I think we owe it to the community. Should we reduce how much we lose and close that up a little bit?”

In other business, the commission heard outside agency budget requests from Fort Hays State University, CARE Council and Downtown Hays Development Corp.

Commission Shaun Musil was absent, and a new commissioner is expected to be appointed next Thursday to fill Chris Dinkel’s unexpired term.