Splish Splash What a Bash: New aquatics centre makes MacDonald Island Park the ‘perfect’ community hub

By Barbara Aarsteinsen - Wednesday, December 1 2010

When 8-year-old Brayden Cooper put his name and phone number on a mini beach ball and dropped it in a draw box at MacDonald Island Park, he had no idea what kind of contest he was entering. He just thought that using a beach ball as a ballot was a cool idea.

When he turned out to be a winner and discovered that he was going to be one of the first 250 people to test the waters at the grand opening of the aquatics facility at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre, he was astonished by his good fortune. “It was unbelievable, wow, how sweet is that,” he explained enthusiastically as he signed up at the registration desk on Sept. 22 and got his special V.I.P. wristband. “On a scale of one to 10, this is definitely a 10.”

Making the experience even more fun, Brayden got to invite guests to accompany him to the “Beach Bash.” He brought along his mother Tammy, his five-yearold sister Breanna, and seven-year-old friend Dakota. To top it all off, they had the honour of being one of the first five families to inaugurate the spray park.

“My son has such good luck,” says Tammy Cooper. “He’s entered a few contests in his short life, and obviously he’s done well. We’re all thrilled to be here.”

Bruce Price said his three grandchildren – three-year-old Katy Price, eight-year-old Alex Price and four-yearold Julian Chambrinho – were so excited about finally being able to get into the aquatics centre after watching it take shape that they barely slept the night before.

“It’s like Christmas morning for them,” explained Price, who has lived in Fort McMurray for 30 years. “It’s been a long journey to get here but nobody cares about that anymore because look at what we’ve got. It’s incredible. We don’t have to go to Edmonton anymore – we’re Hawaii North.

“This facility is really the finishing touch that makes this whole big place a true community centre. We’ve got the library, fitness classes and workout equipment, hockey and all kinds of other sports – and now we have the aquatics centre. Everything is perfect.”

Syncrude Lends Support

At the heart of the aquatics centre – or 4.3 million litres of fun, as it has been aptly promoted – is an Olympic-size pool with movable bulkheads and 30 lanes of 25-metre lengths. As impressive as the pool is, however, the real eye-grabber, certainly for the younger set, is the water park, which has more than 40 spray features, a “lazy river,” a 30-person sauna, a hot tub with built-in spa chairs and two slides, one of which will be for tubes.

The facility also boasts a new name, thanks to a $750,000 donation over three years from Syncrude Canada Ltd. It is now the Syncrude Aquatics Centre in the Suncor Community Leisure Centre – testimony to the community spirit that reigns in Wood Buffalo.

“We are very proud to support a firstclass facility that helps ensure families and young people in the community have access to quality aquatics and recreational opportunities that are an important part of a healthy life,” Syncrude president and CEO Scott Sullivan told a pre-opening crowd gathered for the “See You at the Beach” mini beach ball lottery that would determine the participants in the centre’s landmark first swim.

“We are very proud to be part of a community that comes together to improve the quality of life for all of us.”

The preview, attended by MacDonald Island staff, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council members, Syncrude and Suncor executives and Olympic champion Jennifer Button – who began swimming with the Fort McMurray Manta Swim Club – saw 1,500 beach balls race down one of the waterslides and then bob down the lazy river.

At the end of their journey, they were corralled into a giant flotilla, a multi-colour mass out of which 50 winners were tossed, each one entitled to five tickets for the grand opening. Some 3,000 balls had been handed out to the public over the previous month, to be returned and then deposited in a draw box at MacDonald Island.

“We created the Beach Bash campaign to offer the community the chance to be part of history at MacDonald Island Park,” said Tim Reid, CEO of MacDonald Island Park Corp. “As a community, we can all step into the future of MacIsland together.”

Luck of the Draw

On the big day, the winners were primed and ready, decked out in souvenir “I Was at the Beach” T-shirts and blue and yellow life jackets over their bathing suits as they anxiously waited out the countdown to the official ribbon-cutting ceremony that would signal splash-down. One family had the opportunity to be the first down the yellow waterslide; another got to break in the purple waterslide, which accommodates inner tubes. Five other families got things rolling in the water park. Then it was a boisterous free-for-all.

“Awesome,” summed up Tammie Ramsay, who was one of the lucky 250, attending with her two-year-old son Kieran, and a friend and her daughter. “We were always coming to the gym and watching what was happening with the pool and the park and wondering when it would be ready. It was quite the build-up but we can all see that it’s worth it.”

It was a “bit of a long road to get here,” agreed Reid. “But the end result is exceptional. With these kinds of big projects, we are often driven by the budget, but when you see the faces of the kids, you know this is something you can’t put a price tag on.”

Randy Edison, executive director of Fort McMurray Tourism, pointed out that the aquatics centre is not only a boon for Wood Buffalo residents but also for visitors – another attraction that will help draw tourists and get people to stay longer when they’re in town on business or seeing friends and family.

“This is certainly a first-class facility and it gives us more opportunity to create packages for visitors,” he said. “As well, residents have more reason to stay at home and play when we have something this fantastic in our own backyard. The weather is not even a factor.”

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