WOOD RIVER, Neb. (AP) — From housing development to construction on a new water park equipped with slides and a lazy river, the city of Wood River is working to grow its community.
Wood River, on U.S. Highway 30 between Kearney and Grand Island, is the perfect home for young families commuting to and from work in either of the central Nebraska cities, according to Sara Arnett, a member of Wood River’s Vision 20/20 Committee.
“You know it’s just a great midpoint for that,” she told the Kearney Hub . “It’s really the best of both worlds — close enough to whatever you need but you don’t have to deal with some of the huge schools.”
To attract young families and make it a better place for current residents to live, the city’s Vision 20/20 Committee started planning in 2012 to grow and improve Wood River, population 1,350.
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“We basically were doing town hall meetings just to bring all of the organizations to the table and leaders from all of the facets of the community, and try to do some long-term planning — ‘Where are we now? Where do we need to be?’ — And that all sort of evolved into Vision 20/20,” Arnett said.
Wood River Mayor Greg Cramer said the city conducted a door-to-door survey to assess needs such as affordable day care to housing.
“It kind of set the direction we needed to work on,” he said.
The result has been a new community center and city hall, added amenities at Wood River parks, a dilapidated house demolished and the city received an Owner Occupied grant for $325,000 from the Department of Economic Development. The grant has helped low- to moderate-income homeowners to make energy efficiency, safety and accessibility improvements to their homes, Arnett said.
As mayor for the last 10 years, Cramer has also been successful at annexing land on the north edge of town. Construction on a new water park is in process on three annexed acres just south of Wood River Rural High School, and Cramer hopes to open housing development on an additional 23 acres to the east of the pool and just north of a housing development that has been there for the past 18 years.
The city also took bids to extend Dodd Street north to the pool.
The growth will be perfect for more families wanting to move to the area, according to Cramer and Arnett.
“You should see it in the summertime. You know, there’s just kids galore in here. … The kids run and play and ride their bikes. You know, there’s usually some kind of soccer match going on or whatnot,” Arnett said.
The water park is expected to be complete at the end of May, Cramer said.
The water park will feature a 1,600-square-foot, full-feature splashpad with lily pad walk and a lazy river with a 10-foot diameter vortex.
“You can actually ride around in that,” Cramer said of the vortex.
There will also be a 166-foot tube slide with a 19-foot drop, a smaller eagle slide and a waterfall toy that small children can slide things on, he said.
The community approved an initial $4.98 million bond to construct the pool, Cramer said, and approved a 1½ cent sales tax to pay to run the pool. Overall though, Cramer said the pool will cost about $6.1-$6.2 million dollars.
To cover the cost, the city has received a $1.6 million donation from the Grace Koepp Foundation and about $310,000 in private donations so far.
The new water park was much needed, Cramer and Arnett said, because the current pool at the nearby golf course is about 50 years old.
“It was leaking about 2 inches of water a day so we were constantly filling it up,” Cramer said.
The committee plans to continue to improve parks and recreation. It will also conduct another survey to again assess the needs for a day-care center.
“Our target is always moving. As we accomplish something, we always try to go on to the next thing,” Arnett said.