Splash Play Area: The Only Water Feature in Town
Rotary Centennial Water Park
By Kyle Ryan
Like so many communities, Sapulpa, Okla., had made one investment in an aquatic facility decades ago, and it was for an indoor swimming pool. And, as is the case in many other communities, that pool's effectiveness had decreased dramatically as the years passed.
When the city of Sapulpa—a community of 20,000 located about 15 miles southwest of Tulsa—built the pool funded by a bond issue in the early '70s, it made an agreement with the school district: The schools would use it during the winter for P.E. classes, and the city would operate it during the summer for recreation. By the time Director of Parks John Waytula arrived in 1988, the pool was only being used during the summer.
"It was real old," Waytula says. "The person they had running it was a cemetery guy and didn't know much about pools. The system was really deteriorating."
The city couldn't justify the repair cost, so it sold the pool to the school district—which promptly razed it for a new basketball field house. Pool-less again, city managers had to figure out a way to address the community's aquatics needs.
Once again, Sapulpa came to the same realization as so many other cities: Pools are expensive. In the '70s, before the waterpark boom, a city could get away with a rectangular pool. Add in a diving board and maybe a simple water slide—literally, just a slide with water—and you'd be set. But by 2006, cities and parks departments everywhere have discovered that traditional rectangular swimming pools tend to be underutilized and unable to address people's needs. (According to national estimates, fitness and lap swimmers account for only 5 percent of the population.) But there was a more tangible problem with building another pool in Sapulpa.
"With a big swimming pool, you've got a big, huge, bond-issue-type capital investment," Waytula says. "We didn't have the staff [either]."
Sapulpa didn't want to hold a bond issue for another pool, so city managers started talking to various local organizations. It turned out that the Rotary Club wanted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its national organization, so it was willing to front much of the cost. Following what remains a national trend, the city and Rotary Club began looking into a splash play area as a pool alternative: a simple, pool-less aquatics area built with spray features and other water toys. These play-oriented installations have become common around the country as facilities address what people want: recreation. As an added benefit, splash play areas are not only cheap, but they typically don't need lifeguards, and the water quality is easier to maintain than pools.
In Sapulpa, the Rotary Club began fund-raising, which included securing a matching grant. It took about two years to raise the $144,000 needed to build the splash facility, which would be constructed in the 17-acre Liberty Park, one of the more heavily used facilities in Sapulpa. The project went quickly: The bid process began in December 2004, the bids were examined in January, the contractor and bids approved in February, construction began in May, and the Rotary Centennial Water Park opened on August 20, 2005.
The city tapped local firms Planning Design Group and JP Construction, both of Tulsa, for the project. The playground uses components from Vortex Aquatic Structures International Inc. in Montreal, including tumble buckets, misty arches and ground sprayers. The surface is brushed concrete, some of which is painted red, white and blue to go with the park's "liberty" theme. After everything was completed (including some small additions like benches), the final bill was approximately $153,000. The construction process went mostly according to plan.
"We had one issue where we hit some bedrock," Waytula says. "It took them, I don't know, three days to dig the hole for the big storage tank, so that was kind of a problem, but other than that, it went pretty smoothly."
Success came instantly.
"Oh, it was huge," Waytula says. "Again, [it's] the only water feature in the entire city, so we had crowds every day. It was very popular immediately. In fact, we had people from the surrounding towns—we're the county seat, so there's all kinds of smaller communities within 15 minutes, 30 minutes from us—wanting us to build these things in their little communities. We started having quite a big turnout."
The city opens the park on Memorial Day weekend and closes it "when the weather cools off," according to Waytula, though the splashpad is only open on weekends once school goes back in session.
"Daycares and other people were wanting us to keep it open during the week, which we couldn't," he says, because of the nearby schools. "The kids get out at recess, and I don't think the teachers wanted them coming back in the classrooms soaking wet."
Maintenance has been pretty simple as well. The staff comes by periodically over the course of the day to check on everything, though the splash play area uses an automated, self-monitoring system to maintain water quality.
"If the chemicals get out of balance, it shuts itself off—it kills the power," Waytula says. To minimize any waterborne-pathogen problems, which have sprung up in other places, the city requires that all diaper-age kids wear swim diapers.
Actually, the whole process has been relatively problem-free—a "pleasure," Waytula calls it. Of course, it helps that he and the city did their homework ahead of time. There was little room for error.
"We had all this money raised locally," Waytula says. "We were kind of under the gun to get it right the first time. We couldn't afford to make any big boo-boos on that. We went into it with somebody we trusted. You have got to get someone good, someone who has experience—[it's a] no-brainer. It's a great, great feature."