'Not your everyday sprayground': New feature planned for Vernon Hills aquatic center

With a $400,000 gap closed by the village, the Vernon Hills Park District this week plans to award bids for a $3 million project to replace the Lazy River at its Family Aquatic Center.

When it closes for the season in early August, the Lazy River and an associated slide will be removed and construction of a 7,500-square-foot "sprayground" will begin, park officials say.

The plan is to have the sprayground ready for the 2024 season as a showpiece and destination for the water park, which is going to be rebranded as Turtle Creek.

"It will be impressive," said park board President David Doerhoefer.

When complete, the new feature will be among the largest in Lake County, according to Jeff Fougerousse, the district's executive director.

"It's not your everyday sprayground," he said.

The Family Aquatic Center opened in 1992 at 635 N. Aspen Dr. The 10,000-square-foot Lazy River, where patrons on inner tubes are propelled around a circular track, opened in 2000.

"It's a nice feature. It's just not used as much as we thought," Fougerousse said.

Staffing and utility costs are main considerations. Fougerousse said the district pays about $100,000 annually for Lazy River lifeguards, which have been harder to find and there are staffing issues when they head back to school.

Similar facilities haven't been opening in recent years because they've become too costly to build, manage and staff, according to Fougerousse.

Replacing Lazy River was identified during a review of existing operations and has been in the works about a year and a half, Doerhoefer said.

Staffing and water consumption savings will be substantial, Fougerousse added.

The sprayground can be overseen by one employee and be open earlier or later than the typical seasonal calendar to take advantage of nice days, officials say.

"It's the right decision for the park district, it's the right decision for the community," according to Doerhoefer.

When bids exceeded the original $2.6 million budget, the park district considered other options, including scaling back.

"But that eliminated several features, primarily for younger-aged individuals," Fougerousse said.

The village board, which has contributed to other park district projects, was approached for support. Last week, Vernon Hills trustees approved revising the 2023-24 budget to include $400,000 to cover the gap.

"It certainly seems that it's appropriate we dedicate some of our funds to this," said village Trustee David Oppenheim.

An intergovernmental agreement to govern the transaction is the next step, according to Village Manager Kevin Timony.

The park board last summer approved agreements for design and construction management and on Thursday is scheduled to consider bids for various elements of the project.

"It's a lot of demolition (and) it's a lot of concrete work," Fougerousse said.

The district will borrow $5 million by issuing bonds. Half the proceeds will be used for the sprayground and the rest for repairs to district roads, driveways, roofs and mechanical systems.

  The Family Aquatic Center in Vernon Hills will be rebranded as Turtle Creek Water Park with a new feature in 2024 to replace the Lazy River. Paul Valade/
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