Make a Splash
Spraygrounds Get (Even More) Creative
By Dawn Klingensmith
Long gone are the days when municipalities questioned whether spraygrounds were a viable alternative to community pools, let alone a community asset in their own right. The previous mayor of Louisville, Ky., summed up the prevailing sentiment nicely when he was on hand four years ago for a new sprayground's grand opening. "Spraygrounds are a great investment for our city," Jerry Abramson said. "They operate throughout the spring, summer and fall, and are great places for families to play together."
Clearly, spraygrounds are here to stay; however, the maturing of the market these past few years has brought changes and raised new concerns.
Manufacturers across the board are offering product lines that are more architectural or sculptural in appearance to blend in with urban surroundings. One Eden Prairie, Minn.-based manufacturer, in its latest catalog, offers an "urban line" of play features with bent tubular construction and "gentle sweeping curves," according to principal Ed Benck.
The elements are stainless steel and generally lit at night "to give a whole different feel in the park or urban setting," Benck said. The resulting spraygrounds look more like public art installations, and nighttime lighting lets the community appreciate them as such when the water isn't even running, he added.
"Theming still has its place," Benck said, "but in some communities, they're looking for something that's more architectural and artistic."
Today, "Everyone has a line like this," said Benck, adding that master planning and the involvement of landscape architects from the get-go have driven demand.
With master planners and landscape architects on board, "People are asking, 'What atmosphere do we want to create with this space?' The sprayground does not look like an afterthought" but rather a cohesive design element essential to that atmosphere, or an extension of the natural or built surroundings, said Lisa Neilson, communications director at an aquatic play feature manufacturer in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Because of the maturing market, "We're also seeing a lot of communities that really want something iconic, something no one else has," Benck said.
Neilson's company outfitted a project in New York city, situated near elevated train tracks. Though small, the project packs a sensory punch because every time a train comes, the clamor activates the water features, triggering a light show and sequencing. "It's a great use of a very small space in a very unique environment," Neilson said.
A San Marcos, Texas, company's project was incorporated into a public space used for multiple purposes. The space is "very architecturally appealing on the whole. It's one of those spaces that I really like seeing our equipment go into because someone really thought it out," said marketing director Chris Thomas, adding that incorporating interactive fountains and aquatic playgrounds into larger, multiuse areas rather than setting them off on their own is a growing trend in planning and design. "One of the key aspects I really liked about that project is in winter they freeze over the fountain with a layer of water and turn it into an ice skating rink."
The multiuse trend has driven demand for transformable spraygrounds with nozzles flush to the ground so the cement pad can be used for concerts, farmers' markets or other events when the water is turned off.
Manufacturers are also offering products capable of sculpting water into shapes and structures that rise to the level of aqua-architecture. Internal manifolds and baffles allow for crisp, precise water formations. Water domes or cages can be created, giving kids a sense of enclosure.
Though popular, these new offerings aren't edging out more "traditional play lines," which are the industry's mainstay, Nielson said. "But not everything is crayon-colored anymore. There are more options now including steel or brushed stainless" for a more toned-down look that blends better in a "foresty green space" as well as an urban space.