SplashDown water slide in Columbia

The SplashDown water slide at the Columbia Swim Center has been closed indefinitely due to structural concerns caused by rust. The rust is visible on support beams and on the stairs used to access the slide. (Staff Photo by Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / September 15, 2011)

SplashDown's stair tower likely will be repaired over the next few months, allowing the two water slides at the Columbia Swim Center to reopen by early 2012.

The Columbia Association board voted 8-0 Thursday, Sept. 22, to fix significant structural issues in the tower — which had kept the facility from reopening for the season as scheduled Sept. 17 — as soon as possible. The work will cost an estimated $120,000.

Cynthia Coyle of Harper's Choice abstained, and Michael Cornell of River Hill was not present.

It will take 120 to 180 days for design work, seeking bidders for the project and then completing the repairs, according to Bob Bellamy, director of CA's sport and fitness division.


Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

"Obviously we'll do everything we can to reopen it as soon as we can," Bellamy said after Thursday's vote. "Realistically it would be after the first of the year. It might be January or February."

The steel beams that support the tower and have rusted at their bases will be repaired, as will the steel pans that hold the concrete stairs and are bulging, cracking and scaling due to rust, according to an inspector's report.

But more significant repairs at the Wilde Lake facility are looming. Although the flumes are still safe, reports show that the tubes, which date to SplashDown's 1986 opening, will need to be replaced within a couple of years. That will cost an estimated $250,000.

With that in mind, Bellamy said the repairs to the stair tower should keep SplashDown open through May or June of 2013.

"The question is: 'Does the flume continue to deteriorate after that?' Of course it will," Bellamy said. "We would be hopeful that it [the reopening] would last three years or four years, but I'm not going to hang my reputation on that."

SplashDown has been inspected annually for about the past four years, ever since an engineering survey found deficiencies in the tower and the two flumes.

Facing declining attendance and the possibility of a larger water park being built in Anne Arundel County (that has not been built), the CA board at the time chose to make the minimal amount of repairs to the stairs and tubes that would keep the facility running safely, according to Rob Goldman, the association's chief operating officer.

There is $51,000 left of money set aside for remedial repairs, of which $30,000 will go toward this stair tower project. CA will hold on to the remaining $21,000 in case other work needs to be done at the swim center, said Phil Nelson, the association's president.

"I think there is widespread support in the community to do this," board member Shari Zaret, who represents Kings Contrivance, said during Thursday's meeting.

SplashDown, she said, "is a significant amenity. It's one of the most unique things that CA does, because there is no place else for folks to go."

The board's vote is a short-term solution. Long-term solutions are presently being considered by CA's aquatics master plan task force, which is incorporating feedback from residents to help decide what improvements and changes to make to the association's pools.

"One option that's being considered now by the community is that possibly SplashDown has outlived its useful life, and it's time to move on to something else," Carlton Haywood, the task force's chairman, said Thursday. "The issue is not really 'Do we simply close SplashDown down?' but that we consider what we might replace it with."

Other aquatics-related facilities, he said, would also be appealing to families with young children and to birthday parties.

"The other option would be to make the investment in SplashDown, to fix all the problems with the structure right now and then make the commitment to continue running it for the next 10, 20 years," Haywood said.

The task force will hold public meetings Oct. 11 at Slayton House in Wilde Lake and Oct. 12 at the Owen Brown Community Center. More information is available at columbiaassociation.com/aquaticsmasterplan.

The task force will present its recommendations to the CA board in early January, Haywood said.