After almost three months of delays, the water park at Camden's Kroc Center is expected to be fully operational Friday, in time for local kids' winter school vacations.

The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, a $90 million building on Harrison Avenue that is run by the Salvation Army, opened in early October with much fanfare after nine years of planning.

But until this week, bureaucratic holdups had prevented the center from using the 11,000-square-foot indoor water park's splash buckets, fountains, water slide, and other features.

"The buckets weren't dumping, the fountains weren't flowing. . . . It just wasn't all the fun it was meant to be," said Maj. Paul Cain of the Salvation Army, administrator of the facility.

The delays stemmed from permitting concerns with the state Department of Community Affairs, which had asked for additional paperwork required for amusement park rides, Cain said.

Since the state had not done a physical site inspection, he said, the agency did not realize the park was not a ride until area politicians and members of the local business community raised the concern. Bob Martin, commissioner of environmental protection, intervened, as did Camden Mayor Dana Redd.

Eventually a DCA representative toured the facility and agreed the water features could be used, pending a final inspection this week.

"It's great news for our members and the community," Cain said.

The 120,000-square-foot facility was funded by a $1.6 billion grant to the Salvation Army by the estate of Joan Kroc, an heir to the McDonald's fortune. It is one of 26 centers the agency has built, most in poor urban areas.

Camden's has two pools, a gym, an outdoor track and field area, a rock wall, and basketball courts. Acting on feedback and requests from the Cramer Hill neighborhood, there are also a chapel, food pantry, and computer lab, and a clinic run by the Cooper Health System.

The center has no city residency requirement. Memberships start at $25 per month for a family of four and $15 for a single person. Scholarships are available.

Since it opened, the center has been a popular draw for families from Camden and beyond, Cain said. Already it has more than 4,600 members, close to half of Cain's stated goal of 10,000. Cain said he believed that about two-thirds of those are from Camden, but that the center is still working on a way to track its growing membership.

Several swim teams use the facility, as well as other outside organizations, Cain said. Next year, it will host a new indoor soccer league.

"Most days, the place is really hopping," he said.

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