Legislators' tour planned to highlight problem areas at Killens Pond water park.

Rusted support structures. Failing walls. Aging subsystems.

Sounds like a crumbling building in a city slum.

But it's not. These words describe parts of one of Kent County's most popular tourist attractions, the Killen's Pond Water Park. The water park, part of the Killen's Pond State Park near Felton, brings in more than 100,000 visitors each season.

But now its future is being called into question.

"It's 17 years old," said Park Manager Darren Lawson. "It's starting to wear out. If we don't do something now, it will cost more later."

"There are some safety concerns that we're addressing," Lawson added, "but we'll ensure they're fixed and it's safe before we open.

"If people see that we're open, they can rest assured that it is safe."

The water park is open from May 25 through Labor Day.

Short term fixes

Killens Pond State Park, a 66-acre parcel surrounding an 18thcentury mill pond, has been open since 1965. In addition to the water park, it features camp grounds, play areas and picnic grounds.

Concerns about the water park center on the pool, which was built in 1982, updated in 1997, but now requires major repair work to its walls. Other areas of concern include the water slides, the steel support structures for the slides and the piping and pumps used to carry water to fill the pools.

"The edges of the pool are concrete, like the edges of a sidewalk," Lawson explained. "After a while they start to crumble and water gets behind the walls. Expansion and contraction affects the pool wall, causing it to crack."

The fix – albeit a short term one – involves removing part of the wall, backfilling it with soil, and replacing the wall, Lawson said.

Repairs made last year to one of the water slides were poorly done, creating rough patches that could scratch or otherwise injure sliders, Lawson said. One slide meets standards, but the status of the second is still up in the air, he said.

Lawson also will have a structural engineer examine the water slide's support beams to ensure they are safe.

"We're only open three months, but the towers are outdoors all year long," he said. "They're affected by the chemicals and the elements. We've done the upkeep we're supposed to do, but at this point we need to know it's safe."

Money needed

Lawson's father, Delaware state Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), a member of the General Assembly Joint Finance Committee, has pledged to do what he can to find the necessary funding for the decaying tourist attraction, and has scheduled a tour of the facility for lawmakers on Monday, April 22.

"It's not really an issue of neglect," Sen. Lawson said in a statement. "Things wear out and we're at that point now where things are starting to deteriorate."

It's also an issue that has attracted the attention of the nonprofit Friends of Killens Pond State Park, group of volunteers dedicated to protecting the land within the park and ensuring its preservation and improvement.

According to Lawson's office, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has allocated $255,000 to the park in Fiscal Year 2014, much of it earmarked for "critical facility repairs." That's not enough, according to the Friends, who feel at least $335,000 is needed to make necessary repairs just to the water park.

"It's gotten Band-Aids and patches, trying to keep it going," said Friends President Tom Feurer. "They've tried to fix it up but it's gotten to the point where they need to replace things."

Darren Lawson adds that to bring the park back to its former status would require the General Assembly allocate several million dollars. That includes adding some sorely needed new attractions.

"What we need to bring it up to par is to bring in something new," he said. "Our attendance has been dropping; for a lot of people, it's a case of 'been there, done that.'

"If we want to keep this thing going and build our attendance up, we need to do something new."