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Splash Central days away from grand opening: University history incorporated in park architecture

Posted: Monday, May 20th, 2013

A bell (far left) on a pedestal that was near Voorhees Hall has been kept. Not only was it kept, it wasn’t moved throughout construction. Pavers in front of Voorhees were all picked up and stored and are now in use with the cabanas. Large rocks on the campus have also been retained. The bathhouse still bears a distinct resemblance to Vorhees. In the next photo, a view of the grounds from near the bathhouse. Landscaping is just about complete and some residents were already walking along the paths Saturday evening. On Friday, the ribbon cutting is set for 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., time capsules from the university buildings will be opened. Preview night is Thursday and the water park officially opens on Friday. PHOTOS BY SEAN M.X. KELLEY/PLAINSMAN

HURON — In just a few days, the sounds of excited young kids frolicking in water will fill the air when the Splash Central water park — the state’s newest and most unique in many ways — opens.

It will mark the start of a new era. A university campus for more than a century will now be a place of recreation and relaxation.

But an education component endures with college classrooms at the adjacent Campus Center and the Fine Arts Center across the street. And designers have incorporated university history throughout the park.

Preview night is Thursday and the water park officially opens on Friday.

Swimming lessons begin June 10.

Most of the elements of Splash Central will open on schedule, with the exception of the competition pool.

Cracks in the floor of the deepest area of the pool will delay its opening until the middle of June.

Since Feb. 1, Laura McGirr has been working as Splash Central’s first manager. In the intervening weeks, she has given an overview of the park’s genesis and progress to a number of local groups. One of the most recent was for the Beadle County Republican Women.

University alumni around the country were saddened when the library, dorms and administration building came down. But unless they had been back in Huron in recent years, HU graduates hadn’t seen firsthand how the campus was deteriorating, McGirr said.

She and her husband, as well as several family members, are graduates of Huron University so they understand the ties graduates have to the college they attended.

But the university lives on in different ways. History has been moved forward, as physical components of the school have been incorporated into the design and construction of Central Park. And the community pulled together to establish the Huron Community Campus, making use of the Fine Arts Center and the Campus Center, both buildings remodeled.

Splash Central is the water park, encompassing everything that is located within the black fence that was recently erected. Central Park is outside the fence.

“Everything outside that fence is free unless you want to rent a shelter,” McGirr said.

For well over 100 years, students from South Dakota and surrounding states came to Huron to earn a college degree. The institution began as a Presbyterian college in 1883. It was located on four city blocks in the heart of town.

After the college closed about 10 years ago, the city purchased the Fine Arts Center in 2007. The Huron School District bought the gym in 2009. In 2010, it became clear to city officials that the owner of the campus, now idle, had no plans for its future and the property taxes were going unpaid.

In 2011 the property was purchased as the idea of a water park gained clarity and momentum.

In her presentations, McGirr shows photographs of what the campus looked like when the buildings still stood. They appeared to be just fine. From a distance.

Up close told a different story, on the outside and especially on the inside.

“The (exterior) pictures really make them look good,” McGirr said of the buildings.

The heat had been shut off in them, but the water service had been left on, so the pipes broke.

The basement of the library flooded and black mold was throughout the building. There were leaks in the roofs of the Campus Center and Voorhees Hall.

“When you walked in, you couldn’t hardly walk in because of the smell,” McGirr said of the library.

Built in 1970, the Campus Center was structurally sound but needed considerable work, including a new roof to preserve everything else under it. Mold remediation and asbestos removal were also done.

Since 2009, a research committee had been looking for potential sites for a new city pool. Built in a flood plain in the 1970s, the existing municipal pool was plagued by frequent spring flooding. A number of alternative sites were identified by the committee.

“When they first started talking about this, the HU campus was not even in the mix,” McGirr said. “It didn’t come along until later.”

Establishing what became Splash Central and Central Park at the former campus had far more pros than cons.

It was in the central part of town, eligible for millions of dollars through the New Market Tax Credit, prevented what would have been a blighted area and already had in place roads, parking lots and sewer and water service. Eighty-four mature trees were on the site and incorporated in the layout.

The cons were the financial and emotional costs of demolition and the proximity of neighbors.

“That’s just one of the things they had to take into consideration because there’s people who live all the way around it,” McGirr said.

Neighborhood meetings kept the public informed, and the project gained widespread support as details emerged. One original proposal — an RV campsite — was abandoned because of neighborhood opposition. Campers who want to enjoy the park have a nearby option with the S.D. State Fairgrounds.

The Master Blaster Express — rising high into the sky — is the most obvious feature of Splash Central, but there are many others.

There’s the lazy river, Olympic-size competition pool, body slide, leisure pool, play equipment, flower gardens, picnic shelters, cabanas, walking paths, a walk-in pool, bathhouse and concessions building and future athletic courts.

When renovations to the Campus Center and Fine Arts Building are included, the project cost in excess of $15 million. Nearly one-third of that was raised through donations from 800 contributors, with pledges still coming in.

“People are standing up to their pledges,” McGirr said.

“That’s a lot of people who donated money to make it happen,” she said. “Probably the best part about my job is people want this to be fun and succeed.”

History will come alive in the park, too.

The exterior of the bathhouse and concessions building resembles the architecture of Voorhees Hall.

“They have tried to replicate it as best they can,” McGirr said. “They have done what they can to make it look like Voorhees Hall. Now that was an old building and it had a lot of character — you’re not going to replicate it exact, but they wanted it to be close.”

High on the big archway at Eighth Street and Illinois Avenue Southwest — the Central Park entrance — is displayed a piece of memorabilia that was from one of the buildings.

A bell on a pedestal that was near Voorhees Hall was kept. Not only was it kept, it wasn’t moved throughout construction. The closeness of structures made that particularly challenging.

“It stayed in the same spot that it was at when HU was open,” McGirr said.

Pavers in front of Voorhees were all picked up and stored and are now in use with the cabanas. Large rocks on the campus have been retained.

An education component has been kept as well. In Central Park will be tall native grasses, paths and concrete walks poured with deer and raccoon tracks incorporated in it. Kids can walk in a shallow stream.

On Friday, the ribbon cutting is set for 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., time capsules from the university buildings will be opened.

“Nobody has opened them. They are actually copper and they need to be cut open,” McGirr said.

Before the four-block area of central Huron moves on into the future as the home of Splash Central and Central Park, some of the things residents had deemed significant generations ago are going to see the light of day once again.

For the complete article see the 05-19-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 05-19-2013 paper.

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