The Hays Aquatic Park will include a new play area when it opens next year, but the Hays City Commission’s 3-1 approval Thursday night didn’t come without some discussion.

The $185,000 structure with 14 play features including two slides and a large bucket drop will replace a starburst water sprayer in the zero-depth entry pool. Parks director Jeff Boyle said construction of the feature will begin Aug. 21 after the pool closes, with a completion date of Dec. 21, although the vendor, RJR Enterprises, would like to finish sooner.

A new feature was proposed in January, when city officials and Hays Recreation Commission staff met to discuss how to draw more visitors to the aquatic park.

The money for the structure will come from a reserve fund of $321,558 of the original sales tax initiated to construct and maintain Hays Aquatic Park.

That concerned Vice Mayor Henry Schwaller IV, who cast the lone vote against the improvement. The 18-year-old park will at some point need more expensive maintenance, he said.

“At some point, very soon, we don’t know when, we’ll have to replace the equipment. A future commission, I won’t be here, will have to figure out how to come up with a half million dollars, probably, to maintain this, and then we won’t have it in reserve any more,” he said.

Schwaller called for better marketing of the park.

“It would be great if the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau would actually market it. We don’t promote the aquatic park any more. It’s just there,” he said.

Commissioner Shaun Musil noted when the park opened in 2000, other towns in the region like Dodge City, Great Bend and Russell did not have new pools as they do now.

“It’s obvious attendance has dropped with all these new pools,” he said, but he added the aquatic park seems to be doing well this year.

Boyle said the aquatic park has had two days so far this season of 1,000 admissions. Last year saw only two such days. He also said this year has seen the most family passes sold.

“Personally, I don’t think this is going to increase attendance, but I think it’s going to keep it relevant,” he said of the new play structure.

Musil said the city should consider raising admission prices.

“If you look at the other pools around here, we’re below everybody in our region. We’re not brand-new like some of those others are, so I don’t think we can out-price ourselves, but if we’re truly worried about the dollar amount, which we should be, I think that’s some reason to adjust our prices,” he said.