Then: In May 2004, Hastings residents came out in droves to try out the city’s latest attraction.
The Aquacourt Water Park, 2200 W. Third St., opened May 29, 2004, giving children of all ages from across Nebraska and into Kansas a chance to dive, swim and slide.
Now: In its 11th season, the water park is still a major draw for the community as thousands of people file through its gates each summer.
“Our water park does great,” said Jeff Hassenstab, director of Hastings Parks and Recreation.
“The biggest thing that we pride ourselves on is keeping it clean. That’s the No. 1 comment we get,” he said. “We get people from all over, Grand island and Kansas who say, ‘Your water park is so clean compared to other places we’ve been.’ ”
The water park averages more than 60,000 visitors passing through its gates each year.
The lowest attendance year was in 2013 with just 45,882 people visiting the park. The park was only open for a total of 78 days.
“It was a really cold summer,” Hassenstab said. “Weather really is a big deal. As you can see, last year was not a good year for us. It was a tough year. It really was.”
The air temperature must be at least 70 degrees by noon for the water park to open. And if there aren’t at least 30 people there by 2 p.m. due to the cool weather, staff may shut the park down, Hassenstab said.
“If it’s below 70, they don’t come,” he said. “Even at 70 degrees, it’s just cool.”
However, when it’s hot, people come out in droves.
On July 18, 2012, a total of 2,203 people came into the park when temperatures were more than 100 degrees, Hassenstab said.
The busiest year was 2008 when a total of 65,374 people visited the water park. The most days the park has been open in a summer was 89 days in both 2006 and 2007.
“Mother Nature is huge,” Hassenstab said. “If it’s 100 degrees, they will come in bunches.”
In general, Hassenstab said he believes the attendance numbers in Hastings easily can compete with those of Island Oasis water park in Grand Island, which is much larger with more water features.
Another bit of pride for Hassenstab when it comes to Aquacourt is the fact that it has come out ahead in terms of money in almost all of the last 10 years.
Water parks and other aquatic centers don’t often make a profit, Hassenstab said, because of the high utility costs along with the cost for chemicals and staff.
Aquacourt comes out ahead partly because of the great design of the facility that helps to keep utility costs down, he said.
Hassenstab said the design is important and things like the Olympic-size pool and variety of water depths help to draw people in.
The Columbus water park, which was built in the last decade, is currently undergoing a major expansion to add some of those features to help draw people into the failing attraction.
“They’re losing money left and right because people don’t go,” Hassenstab said. “So when the city designed this, they did a remarkable job.”
The profits earned from the Hastings water park each year are put into a fund to purchase new water features.
In the last 10 years, only a climbing wall has been added. Hassenstab said that’s because of the significant cost of water features.
One water slide feature he would like to purchase called the “toilet bowl” is estimated to cost $500,000. And even just a small feature to add to the children’s water tower could cost $50,000 to 80,000.
That’s why Hassenstab said he is banking all the profits each year in hopes of being able to purchase a new water feature in time of the water park’s 15th anniversary.
In addition to serving the public each day, the water park hosts a swim meet each July and allows two swim teams to use the pool outside of public hours.
The water park has hosted the Kool-Aid Days Jammers boat races, the Duck Days event and a dive-in movie night each July.
Each season closes with a Doggie Paddle event after the last day of the regular season. An average of 120-130 dogs come with their owners to take a dip, dive or swim.
“It’s neat and it’s something different,” Hassenstab said.
In an effort to keep people coming back, Hassenstab said he likes to keep the cost affordable for families by keeping admission fees low and offering special rates in the evenings.
The daily admission for a child or adult has only increased by $2 since the park opened in 2004.
Hassenstab said he has no plans to raise rates again any time soon and just hopes he can add a new feature within the next few years to keep people coming.
“I think the big thing going forward in the future,” he said, “is adding more features and keeping people interested.”