Aquatics center operating in the black, officials say

Any worries the Big Spring Aquatics Center would lose its allure to area water-seekers after its opening year can be safely placed to rest, as the facility continues to draw capacity-level crowds with the beginning of its second season.The aquatic center — which opened last summer to fill the void left when the municipal swimming pool was shut down because it failed to meet state and federal regulations — has opened its 2012 season to much fanfare, according to Assistant City Manager Todd Darden.“We've reached capacity levels at the facility pretty much everyday since it's opened for the summer season,” Darden said. “Any ideas the facility wouldn't be as popular this year as it was last year look to be pretty well unfounded, at this point. Local families — and families from other nearby cities — are coming out daily to enjoy the facility.”Of course, record-high temperatures aren't hurting the aquatic center's business, either, Darden is quick to point out.“There's no doubt folks are looking for a way to cool off,” he said. “Because of the water restrictions currently in place, the kids can't just go out in the front yard and play in the sprinklers. However, I think a lot of people are taking advantage of what the aquatics center has to offer.”The city of Big Spring is currently in Stage 3 of its Drought Contingency Plan, which restricts when area residents are allowed to use water outdoors, including watering lawns and recreational water games.Darden said the water used inside the water park — excluding that used for irrigation around the facility — comes from the city's normal distribution and collection system, however, the restrictions haven't yet had an effect on the operation of the facility.“The water used in the water park has to be regular drinking water. It has to be potable,” Darden said. “We're using non-potable water wells for irrigation purposes around the facility, but as long as that water is non-potable, we can't use it in the operation of the aquatics center. That's something we're looking at for the future ... a way to make those wells potable so that water can be used for more than just irrigation. However, that's in the future.”In the meantime, the multi-million aquatics center continues to operate in the black, according to city officials.“We were very pleased last year when the water park was able to pay for itself and that's something we're striving for, once again, this year,” Darden said. “The city isn't looking for the facility to turn a profit. We're simply trying to make sure it pays for itself and leaves enough cash in its yearly budget for capital replacements.”Darden said problems at facility have been minimal so far this year, limited mostly to situation well outside of the city administration's hands.“We had a few problems over the weekend, when we were at capacity and the lines got pretty long. There were a few people who had a tough time being patient,” Darden said. “We've also seen some minor issues with heat exposure, but for the most part everything is going very smoothly. We're very pleased with the way things are going at the facility.”The center is open to the public from noon until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for ages 3 years and up.