Award Winner - May/June 2005
Find a printable version here


Rock River Rapids Aquatic Park
Derby, Kan.


S u b m i t t e d    b y:


28,627-square-foot water surface area

Project cost:
$5.4 million

Quick tour:

  • Four-slide compleincluding open and enclosed flume slides, raft slide and speed slide
  • Zero-depth-entry shallow play area with toddler slide, spray features, floatables, water walk and foam shooters
  • Themed play structure with two enclosed tube slides, interactive spray elements and 1,000-gallon dumping bucket
  • Eight-lane, 50-meter lap pool with one- and three-meter diving, two drop slides, basketball goals and themed floatables
  • 600-foot-long lazy river

At 40 years old, the outdoor pool in Derby, Kan., was past its prime, and the Recreation Commission was tired of watching maintenance money vanish in its waters. Sure, Derby residents used the pool—because that's all there was—but existing parking didn't even accommodate everyone, and expansion of the site was not viable.

"The decision was made to build a new pool on a new footprint," says Lynn Johnson-Blake, aquatics director of the Derby Recreation Commission.

The location chosen for the new pool was compact.

"There wasn't a lot of acreage, and it's on a slight grade," explains Jeff Bartley, project engineer and project manager at Water's Edge Aquatic Design in Lenexa, Kan., the main consultant on the facility. But it provided excellent visibility on a main thoroughfare that runs from Wichita, Kan., just 10 minutes north of Derby. Positioning it here makes it easy to draw visitors from Wichita and smaller towns nearby.

The facility is much more than just a replacement pool, by the way.

"No one [in the Wichita region] has quite what we have," Johnson-Blake says. The water elements of the facility encompass more than 28,500 square feet and include a shallow pool, a 50-meter lap pool, a 600-foot lazy river and a four-piece slide complex.

"It's a nice blend of recreation and programmed events," Bartley says.

The eight-lane lap pool suits the lessons, fitness swimming and competitive meets of the old pool, and for playtime, it sports two drop slides, two diving boards, and portable basketball goals and floatables.

"When it's open on a Saturday afternoon, you don't notice that this pool is used for programming during the week," Bartley says. The leisure pool has all kinds of activities, including a toddler slide shaped like a rowboat, water cannons, a water-spraying upside-down teacup and the fan-favorite 1,000-gallon dumping bucket.

"Waterparks have done the dumping bucket for more than 15 years, but for a community center to do it is relatively new," Bartley says.

To get community members excited and involved in the project, the city of Derby held a contest to choose a facility name. With the Arkansas River nearby, the river theme struck a cord and won out. Besides splashy red, orange, yellow and blue slides and shade structures, an outdoorsy motif picks up on the river theme with added touches like grassy areas, wooden bridges, rocky landscapes, knotty-pine poles and a tree house.

"The theme is elegantly done, rather than in a cartoon way," Bartley says.

Although a river critter did winner over the planners.

"To stretch out the river theme, the design committee went to the zoo, and the zookeeper said we had to see the river otters and, yes, they were pretty cute," Johnson-Blake says. "When the city of Derby picked the name with the river theme, city staff thought we should have the otter as a mascot because they like to have fun, and that's what this is about." Now, Ollie the otter shows up in signage and park spots like Ollie's Outhouse and Ollie's Snack Shack.

Open just 28 days in 2004, Rock River Rapids saw more than 41,000 visitors and hosted at least one party every day. Besides being a place to frolic and cool off in summer, Bartley attributes much of the success to its consideration of guests. Thoughtful gestures like shade structures at the bus drop-off and in the zero-depth entry of the leisure pool, picnic tables to rent during the day, and deck attendants that roam the pool areas tend to go above the norm for a community pool.

"You see more of that kind of customer service at a high-end resort," Bartley says.

People might not immediately notice those extras, but they definitely notice the stylish surrounds.

"The comment we get most about the park is that it's pretty," Johnson-Blake says. "We tend to get plastic and functional in a lot of what we do with the parks, so we did a lot of things differently here."

As for the outdated pool, there's talk of turning it into a skate park.

J u d g e s '   N o t e s

"Excellent mix of amenities is appealing for all ages."

andrew lavallee

"Contemporary rustic entry is appealing. Themed pool is fun."

steve blackburn

"This project developed a site plan that fits the natural landscape nicely."

patricia rotondo

"Nice orientation to sun. Separation of competition from recreation water is good for programming. Good diversity of experiences."

jim maland

A s s o c i a t e d    F i r m s

building and landscape architect

WDM Architects

mechanical/electrical engineer

Hoss and Brown Engineers, Inc.

building engineer

Mid-Kansas Engineering Consultant, Inc.


Geotechnical Services, Inc.


Walz Harman Huffman Construction


More award winners...