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story.lead_photo.caption Leo Cummings III, left, director of member engagement for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, and Derek Cox, assistant director of Conway Parks and Recreation, look at the plans for the city’s first splash pad during a groundbreaking for the project May 11 in Laurel Park. The 5,485-square-foot splash pad is scheduled to be open July 4, Mayor Bart Castleberry said.

It’s just grass and dirt now, but a groundbreaking was held May 11 at Laurel Park for Conway’s first splash pad.

Mayor Bart Castleberry encouraged children playing nearby to join the Woodrow Cummins Elementary School kindergartners who were present for the groundbreaking.

“The more the merrier,” he said.

The 5,485-square-foot splash pad is scheduled to open July 4.

Candy Jones, the city’s grant administrator, said the splash-pad equipment has arrived, and the project “will go 90 mph” once the concrete pad is poured. The splash pad will be free to the public and will be handicapped-accessible.

The $330,000 cost is funded by a 50-50 matching grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The city’s half was paid for with city Advertising & Promotion funds. The city has paid for the project and will be reimbursed the $165,000, she said.

Jones said the splash-pad size has increased since the initial design and will accommodate 500 kids at a time. It will have three activity bays: toddler, family and action. The activity bays will offer different play areas containing water elements tailored to various ages and abilities.

In addition to the splash pad, parking will be expanded.

“From the parking lot, they’ll run a handicapped-accessible sidewalk that will take wheelchairs straight out to the pad to eliminate any problems getting to the splash pad,” she said.

Also, an additional pavilion will be constructed with electric, water and sewer amenities. An existing pavilion will be renovated.

“We’re going to redo the one that’s there, the one we’ve all used over the years, and do a new one,” Jones said.

Steve Ibbotson, director of Conway Parks and Recreation, said the $52,000 cost for pavilion renovations and construction will be paid for with A&P funds.

RJR Enterprises of Rogers is the contractor for the entire project.

“This is the first of several [splash pads],” Castleberry told the crowd.

The next one will be on the east side of Conway at Fifth Avenue Park, he said, pending approval by the City Council. The item will be on the agenda at the May 22 council meeting, said Kiera Oluokun, director of community development for the city.

Castleberry said the plan is for the Fifth Avenue Park splash pad to be paid for through the Community Development Block Grant program.

Laurel Park is getting a lot of attention these days.

A grand opening was held in April for a $2.6 million, eight-court Conway Tennis Complex in Laurel Park, too. The park is south of Conway High School on Prince Street, but the splash pad will be on the Robinson Avenue side of the park by the playground.

The mayor also told those gathered for the groundbreaking, which included City Council members, that a vote on the construction of a city aquatic center will be “taken before the people in 2021.”

For now, “the splash pad is a great recreational vehicle for the city,” Castleberry said.

Allison Bailey of Conway, whose 5-year-old son, Evan, was one of the kindergartners on hand for the groundbreaking, agrees.

“We are so excited. It’s time for Conway to finally have one,” Bailey said.

Debbie Hibbs of Conway, who was at Laurel Park with her granddaughter, Eva Grace Palmer, 6, said she thinks the splash pad will be well-used.

“I’m excited about it, and I know there are a lot of kids excited about it,” she said. Hibbs said her granddaughter has a brother, Zackary, 2, “and I know he’ll love it.”

Jones said that of all the grants she’s obtained for the city, the one for the splash pad is the one of which she’s most proud.

“I cannot wait to see those kids’ faces when it becomes operational and they can go out there anytime for free,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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