Feb 3, 2016

The Great Water Slide Adventure...

One of the few images I've been able to locate of the water slide at
the Get-A-Way Skateboard Park  I became very familiar with it!

I moved to Huntsville in 1978 to manage a skateboard park and teen recreation center.  Before long, as I have already documented, I was the general contractor in charge of building the skateboard park.  A couple of years later, I thought I had seen the last of that facility and had moved on with my own general contracting business, Creative Builders.

One day, as I was driving north on Huntsville's Memorial Parkway, I glanced to my left and saw the profile of a steel structure growing near where the Get-A-Way was located.  I turned left on Drake Avenue and then onto Leeman Ferry Road to investigate.  Sure enough, someone had dug a hole for a large swimming pool and was erecting the beginnings of a water slide.  A little research with some of the skateboarders told me what was going on.  As a means of increasing the cash flow of the facility, the management had decided to construct and open a water slide adjacent to the skate runs.  Over the next few weeks, I watched the structure grow -- first several supporting towers of steel, and finally a sinuous fiberglass channel connecting them.  It all looked very high-tech.

One day my phone rang.  It was none other than my old acquaintance Mr. C.D. Howard, the City of Huntsville Building Inspector.  The conversation was something like this:

C.D.: "Mr. Mead, this is C.D. Howard.  Do you know anything about the water slide that Mr. XXXXX is putting up at the skateboard park?"
Me:  "No more than you know, Sir.  I've seen it going up."
C.D.:  "Does he think I'm blind?  I see it everyday, driving down the Parkway.  He must think I can't see!"
Me: "I don't know about that, Sir."
C.D.: "Well, he finally got around to asking about a building permit.  They've got no health permit, no building permit, haven't had any drawings reviewed, haven't had any inspections.  He must think the law doesn't apply.  I'm not at all happy."
Me: "Yes, Sir."
C.D.: "Mr. Mead, I trust you and you're a fine builder.  You do things by the book."
Me: "Thank you, Sir."
About this time, I'm really confused as to where this conversation is going.
C.D. continues: "Mr. Mead, I'm going to tell Mr. XXXXX that if he wants to complete his waterslide, he will only be able to do it with you as the Contractor-of-Record.  He has some jake-leg unlicensed contractor from Decatur working on the thing, the drawings are no better than sketches, God only knows how well anything has been fabricated.  It's a real mess.  I'm just letting you know so when he calls you, you will have given it some thought.

You certainly don't have to take the job.  If you decide to do it, I advise you to make sure he hires you as an employee and that you perform all the construction duties as his employee, under the umbrella of his insurance.  Do not do it under your State License and your insurance."

I asked C.D. what it would take for him to accept the project given it's then-current status.  He said he would want a complete detailed set of "as-built" drawings, including a comprehensive measurement of the thickness of all the fiberglass components.  He said that if I accepted the job, his inspectors would work closely with me.

Sure enough, a few days later, Mr. XXXXX called. He was quite reserved as he asked if I'd consider coming back to work for him.  I told him of my conversation with C.D. Howard.  I also quoted him a total price of $10,000, a number that I would soon learn was the bargain of the century.  We struck a deal.  I went to his office a couple of days later to sign my contract.  Then began the real work.

Every day for the next few months, I spent at least a couple of hours climbing on that water slide and taking measurements.  I completed more than 20 large-scale pages of carefully crafted drawings -- every last beam, girder, bolt, rivet, concrete structure, electrical and plumbing systems, and that damnable fiberglass.  I made a large set of calipers with which I could gauge the thickness of the fiberglass every few inches with an accuracy of a few thousandths of an inch.  I worked in rain, wind, outrageous cold, sleet, and snow because I wanted to get the job done.  

The drawings were interesting because the structure was unlike anything I'd ever drawn before.  The steel towers were easy.  A plan view and a couple of elevations were usually sufficient to describe those structures, supplemented by some fastening details.  But the fiberglass structure was so free form, it was a real challenge.  I finally did a plan (overhead) view and then did a side view (elevation) as if the whole thing had been stretched out into a straight line.  In addition, I did cross-sections of the fiberglass channel every foot of its length, as well as details of the flanges that joined all the fiberglass components.  Completing the drawings took several weeks because I was completing other construction projects at the time.

Ultimately, I finished the job, the necessary permits were issued, and the facility was opened to the public.  Within a couple of years the entire park had closed for good.  The last I saw of the water slide, it had been sold to someone in Guntersville and was being stored out in the open behind a chain link fence.  I don't know if it ever was assembled again.

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