This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Work on a series of additions to the Lenoir Aquatic and Fitness Center, including new indoor and outdoor waterslides, so far has remained under budget, the Lenoir Parks and Recreation Department reported Tuesday night to the city council.

The total projected cost is $313,500. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and Lenoir each committed to contribute $156,750 from 2011 to 2014.A total of $190,629 has been spent so far.

Improvements already completed include new picnic tables and trash receptacles, two picnic shelters, and new diving boards and blocks. Others that are in progress include new indoor and outdoor waterslides, six shaded picnic structures, concrete additions, a pool lift for the disabled, irrigation for soccer fields, and a new observation deck and bocce court.

The outdoor waterslide is slated to open in May, pending state and local inspections. Work to install the indoor slide will start in mid-July and is projected to be finished by September. The observation deck and bocce court are a little further off, with the latter tentatively set to be finished in October 2014.

Many features are aimed at drawing tourism and business to Lenoir. The pool additions, in particular, may draw visitors from nearby towns with diminishing options for swimming – including Hickory, which closed its last city pools in 2011.

“It’s a feature that’s going to give us a ‘wow’ factor without having to spend millions of dollars,” Parks and Recreation Director Rob Winkler said.

The department has managed to stay under budget partly due to labor by public works employes, Winkler said. It’s estimated that the projected cost would have risen to $410,000 if all the work involved outside labor.

“We’ve been able to maximize our dollar,” Winkler said. “We’re saving $100,000 by doing the work ourselves.”

As services become more comprehensive, citizens eventually may see a rate increase at the Aquatic and Fitness Center. That’s not directly related to the grant-funded improvements, Winkler said. Rates in Lenoir have trailed below those at similar facilities for years.

“Our rates have been low for a long, long time,” Winkler said. “They’re substantially lower than other areas that don’t even offer everything we do.”

That increase may stay as low as $4 a month or $1 for daily admission, he said.