With the Leitchfield Aquatic Center’s successful public opening on Saturday morning, a huge sigh of relief was exhaled by many city officials, but none more than Leitchfield Tourism Director Ilsa Johnson, who played a starring role in the planning, development and construction of the project.
And Johnson made no attempt to hide her emotions when asked how she feels now that the city’s vision of the water park has been fulfilled.
“I’m just delighted,” Johnson gushed. “It’s not a pool, it’s not what you would consider to be an aquatic facility; we have a water park. And it is beyond any expectations that I had built-up in my mind. It’s beyond what I could have imagined.”
The year-long process of planning and construction has been grueling and time consuming, but Johnson did not battle alone all that comes with undertaking such a monumental task.
“There are so many people who wore so many hats throughout this process; I don’t think there are any one, two, or five people who can take credit for it,” Johnson said. “It was a group effort between the City Council, Tourism Commission, and the public that supported the restaurant tax and believed in our vision.”
Additionally, the realization of the Aquatic Center would not have been possible without tremendous support from the community and its business leaders. For without donations of time and materials, the budget for the project would have possibly been too cumbersome to undertake.
“There are too many to thank individually, but we don’t want to forget Future Designs, who donated thousands of dollars to go toward the back permanent pavilion,” Johnson said. “The Rotary Club and Twins Lakes Regional Medical Center donated the first aid table; City of Leitchfield Public Works has gone above and beyond, and I’ve personally seen (its employees) here until 8:30 or 9:00 at night donating their time, just to make sure that it happens. Kevin Pharis at Leitchfield Utilities has gone above and beyond just to make sure we were able to open on schedule."
One of the key decisions Johnson had to make was who to hire to manage the Aquatic Center. And after a rigorous interview and vetting process, Johnson is overwhelmingly pleased to have found who she feels is the perfect fit.
“I think we are extremely fortunate to be able to get Sabrina Durbin” to manage the Aquatic Center, Johnson said. “To find someone energetic, youthful and who has to the ability to (manage) over 20 lifeguards, most of who are teenagers … we are lucky that we have someone with her qualifications.”
One of the first duties Durbin was charged with was hiring and ensuring certification for the lifeguards, a task she undertook, according to Johnson, with great competency.
“She’s done a really good job interviewing and certifying our lifeguards,” Johnson stated. “She knows exactly what they’re capable of and what their knowledge is. She’s very, very confident in them.”
One can meticulously plan, oversee with a stern eye, and hire with great discernment, but in order for the Aquatic Center experience to be enjoyed and appreciated by patrons (and therefore become a financial home run for the the city), it has to offer a unique experience, especially when one considers the plethora of water-related activities that exist within a mere 30 mile radius of Leitchfield. Johnson, along with those who have seen the finished product, agree that stepping onto the water park’s grounds is akin traveling to another region of the country.
“When you walk in, and walk through the breezeway -- and of course K105 will be playing -- and it just happens immediately … the water is just right there,” Johnson said with a smile. “There is activity everywhere you look. It just kind of goes on and on; you go past the play features and the dump bucket; then the basketball goals and the walking trail lilies that you can do crossing activities with; then straight over to the diving board and lap lanes and slide; and then the lazy river, which is my favorite.
“I’m really shocked, I think because I’ve seen it from the beginning to now, but to watch the expression on someone’s face who hasn’t seen that, that just walks in and sees how it is now, I keep hearing over and over (from people) ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Leitchfield.’”
From the layout of the park, to the multiple activities for all ages to enjoy, the Leitchfield Aquatic Center has to be considered a success as it pertains to design, but it will be up to the people of Grayson and surrounding counties whether it becomes a summertime destination. Early returns seem to suggest Leitchfield has a hit on its hands, but only time will tell if the effort and money put into the realization of what at one time was only a dream, will succeed in the long-term.