What The Public Doesn’t See

What The Public Doesn’t See

With routine maintenance, inspections, and upgrades, water park operating systems can last at least 20 years before major renovations are needed.

5 min read

Justifying closing a water park earlier than usual for major renovations

By Carolyn Mondlock 

With routine maintenance, inspections, and upgrades, water park operating systems can last at least 20 years before major renovations are needed. While maintenance can keep guests safe and happy, a carefully planned, end-of-season closure for a park is just as important to the success of opening one the next season. However, even more important than planning to close earlier than in a typical year is communicating that message to residents.

Coral Cove Water Park in Carol Stream, Ill., opened in 1990 adjacent to a new recreation center. In 2002, the park received a facelift with new and updated amenities, including slides, a splash pad, and tot play areas, and was branded with the new name. In 2010 the splash play area was renovated, and a climbing wall was added. 

In August 2022, the water park began a $1.25-million, nine-month renovation to improve underlying operating systems. The park re-opened its doors to visitors at the end of May 2023 for the summer season.

Coral Cove Water Park is situated by a heavily traveled street corner. Two towering water slides, a drop slide, a climbing wall, a splash pad with a 164-gallon drop bucket, and a new turf playground can be seen from the street. Although shrubbery landscapes the outlying fence, a dry playground, the tot splash area, and a pool also are visible.

Coral Cove is the place to be on a nice summer day. Affordable family memberships allow unlimited visits, or guests can pay a daily rate. Theme days feature games and activities, while a concession stand and picnic area offer options when visitors are hungry or need to take a break. 

Showing Its Age

Over the years, upgrades to mechanical and operating systems were made as needed. These critical systems, not visible to the public, include heaters, pumps, valves, filtration systems, HVAC systems, and chemical-control systems. Maintaining these systems and equipment kept the park operating with minimal shutdowns for 33 years. However, in recent years, maintenance costs have steadily risen, and the costs to keep old equipment working efficiently were no longer financially viable. 

At the close of the 2021 season, the park district hired engineers to provide a project scope and recommendations for aquatic, mechanical, plumbing, structural, and electrical engineering services for a total behind-the-scenes renovation to extend the life of the water park.

Recommendations included mechanical systems, such as the filtration and air-handling systems, which were over 30 years old and badly in need of replacement. Filtration systems include circulation pumps, strainers, and system controllers, in addition to supply and exhaust vents, pool heaters, and water connections. Some of these improvements required cement work. The zero-depth pool gutter system needed structural repairs. New liners were installed in the leisure/lap pool, slide plunge pool, dive pool, and kiddie splash pad. Typically, a liner lasts 10 years. At Coral Cove, the main leisure/lap pool liner was 17 years old—well past its useful life.

Project engineers suggested to the park district board and staff members the 2022 summer season end early because of the need for renovations and improvements. The board voted unanimously to delay the project so Coral Cove could open to patrons in 2022, in order for the opening of the 2023 season.

The construction-bid packet and technical requirements took more than four months to develop. Engineers and project managers assessed all of the water park’s mechanical systems, developed detailed material and equipment needs, assessed availability of materials, and factored in delays due to weather, while developing a construction timeline to run from August 2022 to mid-May 2023.

The Grumbling Begins

Entering the 2022 season, the park district advertised that the pool would close early for renovations. Normally, the season ends on Labor Day, but a July 31 closing date was a surprising piece of bad news to customers. Even with repeated communication about the short season, membership purchasers felt disappointed. After having made so many accommodations through the pandemic and again in 2021 with continued Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines, residents did not understand why the water park was closing early. 

To quell the social-media conversations on the parent Facebook pages, the district posted a blog explaining the history of the pool, the lifespan of a water park, the inefficiency of old operating systems, the extent of renovations needed to operate the water park for many more years, and the difficult decision the park board had to make. The blog post seemed to help residents understand and accept the decision. 

During the renovation, parks and facilities staff members were able to make aesthetic and welcoming upgrades. Doors and walls were painted, new deck umbrellas and chairs were added, LED lighting and new ceiling tiles in the lobby and locker rooms were installed, along with new doors throughout the park. The pool deck sound system was upgraded. The two tower slides were painted and resurfaced for a slicker ride. Park staff members built an oversized chair for the entrance that can seat up to four adults for a unique photo opportunity.

Water-park maintenance demands general upgrades and routine cleaning of mechanical systems. Sight unseen, these systems breathe new life into a water park so visitors may enjoy them for years to come. Visitors don’t need to know how the pool operates. They just want it to be open in order to have fun!


Carolyn Mondlock is the Division Manager of Marketing & Communications for the Carol Stream Park District in Illinois. Reach her at carolym@csparks.org.

For information about this project, contact Shane Hamilton, Director of Parks & Facilities at shaneh@csparks.org.