Donner Aquatic Center to open for the season

While the water may be chilly, many youngsters are still expected to attend Saturday’s opening of the Donner Aquatic Center.

This holiday weekend, public swimming sessions will take place from noon to 6 p.m on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week, the hours will be 1 to 6 p.m.

No public swimming sessions will take place from Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4, due to the Jaime Miller Swim Meet.

But on Monday, June 5, the aquatic center will be open from 1 to 6 p.m.weekday afternoons, and from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends. Beginning Aug. 3, public sessions will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and from noon until 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The final public swimming session of the year will be Sunday, Aug. 13.

Since the last public session was held, the city has invested about $996,000 into the Donner Aquatic Center. For that reason, Columbus Parks Associate Director of Recreation Nikki Murphy says she anticipates a full season without unexpected interruptions or limited capacities.

That’s something patrons haven’t enjoyed in some time. Last year, the aquatic center closed July 17 to fit the timetable of a contractor working on the renovation. If the water park didn’t close early last year, inflation would have likely caused a significant rise in repair costs, Murphy said.

In 2021, health concerns raised by COVID-19 limited the maximum capacity to 200 people, including staff. That summer was also exceptionally rough in terms of weather. There were several days when no swimmers showed up due to rain, threatening skies or uncomfortably cool temperatures.

But that was better than 2020, when there was no activity. The aquatic center never opened due to the pandemic.

“Right now, we don’t have any reason to believe something might derail our season,” Murphy said. “But because we had such a wet spring, everything was about a week behind what we had ideally wanted.”

She credits a hard-working staff for getting the water in the pool, completing all repair work, ensuring that chemical treatments are being applied on schedule, and that the staff is trained in operating new systems, she said.

When the public first sees the upgraded aquatic center, the stain-free crystal blue liner may give an initial impression of an entirely new swimming facility, Murphy said.

But most of the nearly $1 million investment is buried below the pool, she said. After the old liner was removed, a crew from RLTurner Corp. of Zionsville had to do some excavating to install a new surge tank, which takes in water when several people are in the pool. Surge tanks also help prevent accidents by keeping pool decks drier, which reduces injuries when swimmers slip on concrete. The tank also saves money by eliminating the need to continually add water.

New concrete can be found in several areas, as well as a rebuilt tunnel around the perimeter with new piping, Murphy said. In addition, many outdated attachments have been replaced with new fittings and equipment, she said.

As these repairs and upgrades were being made, one change would trigger another that is usually required to meet government and environmental standards, Murphy said. The legally-required changes dealt mostly with water circulation and filtration, she said.

“Once you are under (the floor of the pool), it’s like a domino effect,” Murphy said. “But what we didn’t want to happen was to not invest in pieces of the domino line and potentially face something breaking down later this season.”

While the 75-year-old aquatics center will be around for several more years, it may be a different story for the offices, meeting and activities areas on Donner Center’s west side. Like the pool, that area was also opened in 1948.

No decision regarding the west side will be made until after public input is provided and a master plan is approved. But Murphy says the community center part of Donner Center “will change shape” after the staff moves into NexusPark early next year.

Problems with the aging structure include an electrical system that needs updating, as well as insufficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, she said. The roof leaks throughout the entire facility, and the bathrooms cannot be remodeled to accommodate requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Murphy said.

At the time, the city is considering adding new aquatic amenities, nicer locker rooms and a training facility for staff and first-responders in their early planning.

A history of the Donner Aquatic Center

Plans for the original ‘Donner Municipal Swimming Pool’ were first discussed between 1944 and early 1946 between two prominent individuals: Philadelphia steel magnate and Columbus native William H. Donner (1864-1953) and his local attorney, former Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Julian Sharpnack (1879-1968).

One year after World War II ended, Sharpnack took the plans to the Columbus City Council. Since Donner instructed Sharpnack to refuse any offers of tax money, Donner’s estimated gift that was worth $250,000 at the time received the council’s full blessing on May 20, 1946.

Two years later, the facility that was later named Donner Pool opened for the first time on July 4, 1948. Five months later, construction on a new community center on the west side of the pool was completed.

The offices, meeting rooms, kitchen and activity areas brought Donner’s total gift to his hometown to $400,000. Adjusted for inflation, that amount is equivalent to $5.035 million today.

While the pool was occasionally closed for repairs and upgrades for decades, the most significant change took place in 1998. About $1.5 million was invested into upgrades that eventually included a heated leisure pool, geysers, tube ride, water spouts and a 20-foot umbrella.

Completed on the 50th anniversary of Donner Pool, these new attractions led to a new name — the Donner Aquatic Center.

Admission prices

Public swimming sessions for the Donner Aquatic Center

Child (2 and younger) – Free

Child (3 – 5) – $3

Child (6-17) – $5. All children 10 years and under must be accompanied by a responsible person 10 years old or older.

Adults (18 and older) – $6

Season Pass (3 years and older) – $50