Lisa Reeser points out where one of the features of the new water park will be while Megan Cook looks on last week at Lions Park in Ontario. Reeser is a member of the local Friends of the Aquatic Center committee while Cook is the chair. (The Enterpise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Community matters to Megan Cook.

That’s why when the city closed the Ontario Aquatic Center in 2013, the Ontario native decided to get involved.

Cook and other local residents formed the Friends of the Aquatic Center in 2016 and recently its effort to replace the local landmark took a big leap forward towards an ambitious plan.

On a sunny but cold day in February, city leaders and committee members convened at the Ontario Lions Park to break ground on a new splash pad.

For Cook, the ceremony marked the first step in a six-phase project that could one day furnish residents with a water park and an open air pool.

“The reopened center can truly become a regional draw of the western Treasure Valley, and a perceived and actual center of activity year round, as a true Aquatic and Recreation

Community Center,” according to the master plan for the project.

Cook said she couldn’t remain silent when the aquatic center closed. She became involved for several reasons, she said.

“I am a mom, a business owner and I have lived in Ontario my entire life. When I saw the pool close and then the golf course, I was concerned,” said Cook.

The aquatic center opened in 1981 and featured an indoor pool. The city closed it, citing lack of money.

 “I couldn’t stand back and wait for the city to make a different decision. I decided I had to get involved and speak up,” said Cook.

Cook, who chairs the aquatic center committee, owns Stan’s Heating and Cooling with her husband Brad.

The committee has raised about $379,000, which will be used to complete the first piece of the project.

The city contributed $262,000 from its motel tax collections while Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario donated $25,000. Fourteen donors chipped in ranging from $10,000 from the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce to $3,000 from Treasure Valley Steel of Ontario.

To raise funds, the group produced a brochure, placed an insert in city water bills and utilized its own website.

“But mostly it’s been us going to people who we think would be interested,” said Cook.  “Basically, we need amenities in Ontario.”

The committee turned to experts on water parks to start its work – children.

“We started gathering community input by reaching out to the school district asking for the kidsʼ vision of what they would like to see in an aquatic center,” the committee said in its fundraising appeal. “We received over 200 drawings and essays that beautifully represented the ideas of our communityʼs youth.”

The money is enough to build the splash pad, which will be sited west of the aquatic center. Among the features planned are a giant bucket that fills with water and then dumps the wet stuff and a pair of seven foot- and five foot-high mushrooms that spray water.

Cook said the splash pad could be completed by the end of the summer.

The splash pad is part of a more ambitious plan to remodel and open the aquatic center, estimated to cost about $2.4 million.

The first three phases, said Cook, will include the splash pad, and the creation of a splash park. The splash park includes a concession stand, a fenced area with bathrooms and a patio with shaded structures. Later phases imagine removing walls and the roof over the pool, a retractable roof, and a new gymnasium.

Cook said the Friends of the Aquatic Center see the ambitious project, funded through donations and grants along with assistance from the city, as an important way to make Ontario a better place to live.

“We need things like this. We have to have stuff like this to do,” said Cook.

The board will continue to raise money, said Cook. That will include applying for state grants.

Cook said the committee used public comments to craft the project.

“We tried to keep it as simple as possible,” said Cook.

When the water park is completed, the city will operate it, said Cook.

Marty Justus, an Ontario city councilor who sits on the aquatic center committee, said the effort sends a message about community involvement.

“When citizens get involved in their community good things happen. This is a reflection of that,” said Justus.

LEADING THE WAY: Members of the board of Friends of the Aquatic Center: Megan Cook, Lisa Reeser, Sarah Bradbury, Shawna Peterson, Debbie Blackaby, Freddy Rodriguez, Marie Torland, Stephen Meyers, Cydney Cook, Adam Brown, Betty Carter, and Marty Justice.

MAKING A SPLASH: Here are donors funding Ontario’s new splash park, according to the Friends of the Aquatic Center Committee:

Saint Alphonsus $25,000

Hot Box Farms $25,000

Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce $10,000

Ralph and Nancy Poole $5,000

Barbara Olson $6,000

Treasure Valley Steel $3,000

Boys & Girls Club $3,000

Stan’s Heating $3,000

Four Star Realty $2,500

Community In Action $2,500

Charlotte Fugate $2,000

Billy and Betty Carter $1,500

Ben and Shawna Peterson $1,000

Baskin Robins $500

Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.