A new play area at Hays Aquatic Park should be ready when the city’s pool opens the end of May, despite recent glitches.

Parks Director Jeff Boyle told Hays City Commissioners at their regular work session Thursday evening there’s been a bit of a delay.

The $185,000 structure with 14 play features includes two slides and a large bucket drop, which replace a starburst water sprayer in the zero-depth entry pool. The vendor, RJR Enterprises, in June 2018 was looking at a Dec. 21 completion date.

“The manufacturer has sent the wrong size poles on two different occasions, so we’re a little bit behind schedule on that,” Boyle told the commission. “I’ve talked to the director within the United States of this company and he has put us on the top of the priority list.”

The poles should arrive in the next two to three weeks, Boyle said.

“I advised that this has to be completed and ready to go when that pool opens,” he said. “He assured us that would happen.”

Boyle said attendance at the pool in 2018 was holding strong, with the first two months up from last year’s numbers.

“Hopefully this year we’ll have more attendance having the new feature,” said commissioner Ron Mellick.

Despite so much rain last summer, attendance was up about 1,400 people. There were 49,670 visitors, up from 48,238 in 2017, said Roger Bixenman, superintendent of the Hays Recreation Commission, which manages the pool for the city. There were seven days the pool didn’t open at all due to bad weather.

“We had a lot of days last year that were overcast that we either opened late or opened and had to close early because of weather. Or some days we stayed open during normal operating hours and our attendance wasn’t very good,” Bixenman said. “This year we were a little more proactive in closing some of those dates, if the weather was overcast and it was a little cooler at that 70 to 75 range.”

Big swim days included opening day May 25, July 7 and Aug. 8. The Hays Police Department Party was another big day, with 1,082 visitors Aug. 2.

Revenue from admission, rentals, classes, season passes, swim lessons, concessions and other income was $224,388 for both the Aquatic Park and Wilson Pool, with expenses for both coming in at $263,726, for a loss of $39, 337.

The city is contracted to reimburse Hays Rec for 50 percent of any operating loss up to $26,000. This year that amounts to $19,668.70, Boyle said.

Commissioner Sandy Jacobs indicated it’s worth it.

“It really is a very small price to pay,” Jacobs said. “I think the new stuff is going to generate some excitement. My grandkids come from Colorado Springs and they like it better than what they have out there.”

Mayor James Meier also defended the cost despite people sometimes complaining to him about the pool losing money. He pointed out that city-owned Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course also loses money, with the city budgeting $173,000 a year for that.

“Sometimes people ask me about the losses at the pool, and it’s important to remember that we’re splitting those losses with the Hays Rec, so it’s not a total loss to the city,” Meier said.

Jacobs said she hasn’t heard complaints.

“I’ve only been on the commission two years, but I have not had one single person ask me about the losses on these areas that are quality-of-life additions to this community,” she said.

Regarding the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex, Bixenman said for 2018, Hays Rec recorded $18,499 profit, for four straight years of profit there.

“As for participants, we’re hanging right in the 10,000 range, which is good to see,” Bixenman said, despite the fact one tourney, the 14 & Under ASA Girl’s Softball State tournament, was rained out.

“Remember it was a Friday and we had that monsoon come through,” Boyle said, so it was moved to Great Bend.

In 2018, Hays Rec completely repaired the southwest quad with infield red dirt that was professionally laser graded. Also, all the lips on the entire complex have been removed, which meant the summer’s heavy rains all drained into the outfield much better than in years’ past, leaving the fields in wonderful condition, Bixenman said.

They also installed windscreen on some of the fence. The windscreens, which look like green stripes on the fence, break the wind for 20 to 30 feet on a good windy day, he said.

“They have helped tremendously,” he said, “and when the dirt does hit it, it piles up and stays there and we can move it back out.”

For 2019, Hays Rec will add windscreens on the remaining three fields in the northeast quad, and infield mix and level grades also, all of which is budgeted.

“We’ll have about four baseball tournaments again,” Bixenman said, including the 14 & Under Girls, and possibly the 9 & Under Girls.

In 2018 they hosted the two largest tournaments they’ve ever hosted at the complex, including the Girls ASA softball the first week in June, which was 60 teams, he said.

In other commission business, they heard a briefing to make improvements to east 41st Street, which drew strong criticism from Mayor Meier, because it would be funded with money from a special development district sales tax begun in 2005, and that’s in place for 22 years until 2027.

City staff reported that strong tax receipts from the special district make it possible to make the street improvements. Meier said he was against the project.

“I’m not in favor of moving this on,” Meier said. “This is being funded by a sales tax. We are essentially building a road to nowhere and raising taxes to do it and I stand opposed.”

Meier said he’s trying to redo his kitchen and living room on the cheap and paid $50 toward the special district tax when he bought materials at Home Depot.

“Without the tax,” he said, “the three-quarter-cent sales tax goes away, and we help the people in our community. We talk about affordable housing, this is something that can be immediate, and effective, in helping with affordable housing.”

Commissioners Mellick and Jacobs said they favor moving the project to next week’s city commission agenda.

The improvements are paid for with a three-quarter-cent sales tax on customers of businesses within an area called the Transportation Development District for the Home Depot Development.

The businesses include Home Depot, IHOP, Hampton Inn, Town Place Suites, JT Travel Plaza, Taco Grande, and a yet-to-be-developed area that includes 47,000 square feet of retail space, said Finance Director Kim Rupp.

The city could pay for the project with city idle funds, then get reimbursed with the sales tax, Rupp said.

Over the last 163 months, the TDD has collected a total of a little over $2.7 million, he said, or recently over the last three years the TDD averaged about $247,000 in revenue per year.

Rupp said that will probably increase to $282,000 a year in coming years.

With that level of sales tax revenue, the street improvement could be paid off in about 18 months, Rupp said. Using city idle funds would save $13,500, over debt from a short-term bond offering.

Meier wasn’t convinced.

“This is a project in search of a problem,” he said. “There is no problem there. This is a road to nowhere, these funds are better spent in the hands of the people giving it up as a tax.”

Extension of 41st street would include a two-lane concrete road with gravel shoulders, like the design of Commerce Parkway, and a six-foot-wide sidewalk along the south side of the road, as well as 12-inch waterline along the extent of the project. Construction could start in March and be done in 120 working days, according to Project Manager John Braun’s briefing on the project.

Of five contractors bidding on the project, a low bid of $692,133 came from Paul-Wertenberger Construction Inc., Hays.

Also in other business, Public Works Director Jesse Rohr briefed the commissioners on an annexation request from Robert and Sondra Swift for a 23.3-acre piece of ground on the west side of the U.S. 183 Bypass and West 33rd Street. If annexed, the Swifts plan to develop it. Currently 500 feet outside the city limits, a portion is known as Creeksite Acres, formerly Ball Mobile Home Court. Sewer is on the east side of the bypass, and the developer plans to extend a city water main at no cost to the city, said Rohr.