"What's the verdict?" a mom asked me on my way out of the new Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center in Raleigh on Wednesday.
My reply: "It's not huge, but it's nice."
Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center, which opened to the public on Tuesday, is a major addition to the city's recreation offerings. The $8 million project, which was months behind schedule, includes a three-story water slide; three lap lanes; a tot play area with a small slide, water curtain and dumpers; a current channel; and a water vortex that spins you around a bit.
If you have Great Wolf Lodge's indoor water park in your mind as you consider Buffaloe Road, think again. The pool area is just a little bit bigger than the year-round pool at Millbrook Exchange Park.
It's not a massive complex and there's not a lot of decking for parents to sit and watch their kids. In fact, if your child is shorter than 48 inches, you'll need to be within arms reach of him in the current channel and water vortex.
"This is definitely an in-the-water kind of facility for parents and kids to enjoy," said Terri Stroupe, the city's aquatics director.
The 6,000 square-foot recreation pool is unlike any other that you'll see in Raleigh with the circular vortex; narrow channel; and giant yellow slide. Other than the three lap lanes, there isn't a lot of room here for traditional swimming. It's all about having fun in the water features that aren't offered among the city's other public pools.
And for lap swimmers, a second phase of the aquatics center includes a 50-meter pool that will be larger than the pool at Pullen Aquatics Center. The city has not set aside money for this portion of the project. Stroupe expects that we'll have to wait another five years or longer for that piece.
Some highlights gleaned from a tour that Stroupe took me on:
- The water will be between 84 and 86 degrees. That's about two to four degrees warmer than a normal pool.
- A new system to keep the water clean uses ultraviolet light, allowing the city to use less chlorine. The water passes through UV light to kill germs and bacteria before chlorine is injected. You definitely don't get that chlorine smell when you walk in.
- A dehumidifier, the first for a Raleigh pool, helps to make the space more pleasant. While it's warm in the room, I noticed that the air doesn't feel as steamy as it does at Pullen Aquatics Center, for instance.
- A "bubble bench" sits opposite the water basketball hoops where swimmers can enjoy some massaging bubbles. Among city aquatics staff, the bench also has been called the "mom bench" because they expect moms will hang out here while watching their kids swim or go down the slide.
- Two giant family rooms are available for individual families to change in. The rooms, which truly are gigantic, include a bench to change a baby or to sit your kids on. You'll also find a shower, with a bench, toilet and sink in here. Lockers at the pool are actually off the pool deck and not in the changing room (a great addition if you just need to pull out a quick snack).
- Among the building's green features, there is grass actually growing on the roof. It helps with insulation. Solar panels help heat the water.
- A party area sits directly off of the pool. The space, which opens up to the pool area next to the tot water play section, is slightly air conditioned so parents who aren't swimming aren't sweating in the warmer air, but kids in wet bathing suits aren't shivering. Starting Oct. 1, you can begin booking parties in the space for the period Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.
- The fees to swim at Buffaloe Road are higher than at other pools in Raleigh. But, if you expect to swim here a lot, it's best to buy a monthly or annual pass, which is good at any of the city's pools and do not reflect the higher price to swim at Buffaloe Road. Single admission for city residents is $3 for ages 1 to 12; $7 for ages 13 to 54; and $5 for ages 55 and up. The fee for non-residents is $6 for ages 1 to 12; $14 for ages 13 to 54; and $10 for ages 55 and up.
- Swimmers must be 48 inches tall to use the three-story water slide. Jewelry and bathing suits with any metal fixtures such as zippers or buckles are not allowed on the slide. This includes rings and they were sticklers about this with a swimmer when I was there on Wednesday.
- You'll find a couple of vending machines with snacks and drinks. City budget issues prevented opening the concession stand right away (and also kept it from being open seven days a week. The pool is closed on Mondays right now).
The pool offers swim lessons and exercise classes. In some cases, they're at the same time so kids can learn to swim while a parent exercises. (The city is looking for lifeguards and swim instructors).
Early reports from swimmers this week give it a big thumbs up. The handful of kids who were there when I was there on Wednesday were having a great time. I can't wait to bring my own!
Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center is at 5908 Buffaloe Rd., tucked back behind Buffaloe Road Athletic Park between Interstate 540 and New Hope Road. Once you turn off Buffaloe Road, follow the signs to the aquatics center.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday.
The waterslide, vortex and current channel will be open 12:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday.
Lap swim times will be noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Friday; and noon to 3 p.m., Saturday.