Aliya and Cambria McDonald gleefully splashed around the crystal blue indoor kiddie pool at the brand new Olathe Community Center Tuesday morning.
The 5- and 3-year-olds squealed with delightful anticipation as thunder started rumbling and pink and purple lights flashed above their heads.
Cambria, with bouncy Shirley Temple locks, skipped to her mother’s arms, but her older sister was a little braver. When the fake thunderstorm began, Aliya danced around in a circle in the rain and colorful lightning.
“I love playing under the water,” the soon-to-be Scarborough Elementary School kindergartner exclaimed. “It’s not scary, it’s exciting. I like the loud thunder.”
The two little girls were some of the first kids to try out the aquatic amenities at the brand new Olathe Community Center at 1205 E. Kansas City Road.
Opening day for the city’s first community center, at the southwest corner of Kansas City Road and Ridgeview Road, started a little slowly. But as the morning wore on, dozens more residents and families poured through the main entrance.
Lori McDonald and her family had been counting down the days until the center’s opening since they bought memberships back in April.
Located less than 10 minutes from their house, McDonald sees the new community center as the perfect spot to spend lazy summer days with her three kids.
“My husband is at work and we’re here playing at the pool, so I feel a bit guilty,” she said with a laugh. “But this is a place we’ll definitely spend a lot of weekends and evenings together as a family. I’m looking forward to taking a Pilates or Zumba class and working out in the fitness area.”
Her sentiments were echoed by several Olathe residents checking out the new facility on opening day.
Upstairs in the fitness center, Mengistu Shiferaw of Olathe checked out the exercise equipment with his son and niece, both 14.
The father of three said Olathe has needed a place like the community center for a long time.
“I’m a bit old-school,” he said with a smile. “I think it’s good for kids to swim or play basketball with their friends, rather than just sit at home and watch television or be on their phone all day. That’s one of the main reasons I joined — so my kids could be active and we could spend time together as a family.”
The enthusiasm pleased community center officials, who have been anticipating opening day since construction began more than a year ago.
“This morning, the hair on my arms stood up when I saw about 70 people waiting for the main entrance doors to open,” said Mike Fields, the manager. “After all our planning, this building has finally come to life. Every age imaginable is here and that says something for a Tuesday morning.”
Nichole Asquith, the marketing manager for Olathe Parks and Recreation, agreed.
“Just hearing the weights in the fitness area clinking brings back that fresh excitement of what we’ve been planning for so long,” she said. “For several months, it was just a building, but now it’s a community center and it’s already becoming a family.”
The community center currently has sold about 700 memberships, which far exceeds Park and Recreation’s goal of 450 members by opening day.
Now, community center officials hope to have 1,000 members by the end of the year and 2,500 by next June.
They anticipate that as word of mouth spreads and more residents take a free tour of the 72,000-square-foot facility, they will reach those two goals.
After all, the $28.5 million community center is more than just a pool and gym. It also features three basketball courts, a child play area, a party room, a community room, fitness classrooms, a track, and even an Olathe Library kiosk for patrons to borrow or return books.
In addition to the kiddie splash pool, the aquatics area features two water slides, a lap pool with diving boards, a lazy river, a leisure pool, and a 16-person hot tub.
The city expects to see 400,000 visitors to the new community center each year. The center is operates through user fees and the city says no general fund tax dollars will be used to support the building.
Adjacent to the popular Stagecoach Park and across the street from the Mahaffie historical site, the community center will offer year-round events.
Starting this year, it will be the site of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting, which used to take place at City Hall. It will work with Mahaffie for Trick or Treat Off the Street in October. Officials also are planning a new spring event at the community center.
And the downtown farmer’s market is moving to the community center’s west parking lot Saturday.
The city has been taking suggestions to improve the center even before it opened. The center initially was supposed to offer daycare service only for children from 6 months to 5 years old. But after several parents asked for an option for older children, the community center offered Kid Zone, starting on Monday, which will provide monitored activities such as arts and crafts, outdoor games and sports.
With guidance from the public, said Fields, the center will adjust.
“We want to be responsive because this center belongs to the community,” he said. “It’s our goal to meet the needs of the masses.”
The Olathe Community Center at 1205 E. Kansas City Road will celebrate its grand opening Thursday with 19th-century-style fireworks, activities, games and free food.
A walk/run and other family activities start at 4 p.m., followed by an 1860s baseball game at 6 p.m., the civic band at 7 p.m. and fireworks at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm nearby at 9 p.m.
For more information about the Olathe Community Center, visit www.olatheks.org/parksrec/communitycenter.