EAST PEORIA — Splashdown is coming down.
After 21 seasons of providing children and families with cool, wet relief on hot summer days, the popular water park at the top of an East Peoria bluff is being dismantled, cut into pieces and sold for scrap. The city has no specific plan for the 3.5 acres at EastSide Centre that the Fondulac Park District leased for the park. The park district has no specific plan to build a new swimming pool elsewhere in the city.
"Our first goal is to get through the demolition," park director Mike Johnson said Wednesday. "Then we'll see what the future holds."
Faced with more than $500,000 in capital expenses over the next two years, the Park Board decided last fall to end the park's 21-year run. A filtration system needed replaced. The tipping bucket was rusty and unsafe. A pedestrian bridge needed overhauled. The Lazy River needed a paint job. One massive leak in a pipe buried in sand and concrete at the base of the Splash Tower was a system failure that could be seen and repaired. No one knows how many more leaks lurked in the miles and miles of piping that lay beneath the surface.
"No one thought it would last forever," said assistant park director Craig Weigle, who lasted 22 years as the first and only manager and supervisor of the water park. "And no one is happy about seeing it closed."
Now comes the task of removing the water park that cost $3 million to build.
The park district hired local demolition expert Jamie Cassidy to take the park apart. He's getting reimbursed for costs, Johnson said, but his profit is in the resale of the salvaged materials. So far the giant water slide and the baby pool have been dismantled. Johnson and Weigle hoped all of the above-surface structures will be taken down and removed by the end of the summer. The guts of the system, the giant underground filters, the buried pipes, the countless yards of concrete will remain in place until a decision is made on the future use of the property.
The district closed the city pool on Springfield Road when Splashdown opened two decades ago. With Splashdown closed there will be no place in East Peoria to conduct swimming lessons (save for private pools). The city swim team's home pool is in Five Points in Washington.
"There is some community identity built into a city swimming pool," Weigle said. "That will be coming to an end for now."
Johnson said the Park Board will likely continue on a path that leads to a new pool in the city — perhaps a lap pool and a baby pool, not a full-blown water park like Splashdown. But pools are expensive to build and operate — the starting price for a new one is in the neighborhood of $5 million, Weigle said — and the board would probably leave it up to voters and taxpayers to decided if it something they want its park district to pursue.
In mid-demolition, the park has taken on the air of an abandoned Soviet-era amusement park. There are no junk trees growing up through creepy carousel horses or rickety roller coaster tracks, but the top of the giant slide is in pieces at the bottom of the empty receiving pool next to bits of plastic piping and other less-recognizable bits of garbage. Chunks of concrete are scattered on the concrete steps that lead out of the pool. The baby pool is empty. The wood-framed Splash Tower looks weathered and worn. A family of raccoons had taken up residence in the crest of a roof near the popular tipping bucket.
"Craig poured his heart and soul into this place," Johnson said. "He was worried about it all the time. And we were all proud of the thousands of teenagers who worked here in one of the best summer jobs you could find."
"There's some emotion there," Weigle said. "I'll admit that. But there was also an awful lot of hard work that went into keeping it going."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Folliw @scotthilyard on Twiter.