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Feature Article - April 2016

The Spray's the Thing

The Latest Trends in Splash Play Areas

By Joe Bush


Wyeth Tracy, president of a Markham, Ontario-based manufacturer of splash play and waterpark equipment, was in Brazil to bid on a project when a man told him a story that encapsulated the main reason his company does well putting spraygrounds in resorts and hotels.

The man described his attempt to drive past the resort the family had visited the year before. The kids had loved the resort's splash pad, and when they realized he was not turning in there, they flipped out. The man turned back.

"If you can get the little ones interested in your facility, they're the ones that drag the whole family there," said Tracy. "It's what we call Pester Power."

The tale also highlights a limitation of splash pads; the age of the target audience tops out at 12. The point is, for families with kids younger than that, splash pads on flat ground, with no standing water, allow mom and dad some time to relax while their kids play safely needing little supervision.

It's one of the reasons Tracy sees a bright future for the installation of new spraygrounds and refurbishment of old ones.

"The secret of a water playground is that the parents can relax. They don't have to be in the water. They don't have to worry about the kids falling in," said Tracy. "You have to be on guard all the time with a deep pool. Slowly these facilities, whether it's zoos or aquariums, YMCAs, eventually they'll start realizing these are great safe facilities to put in, and the insurance companies love them because there's no danger there."

Know Your Options

There are two general types of splash play areas: those in zero-depth beach entry type environments, and those on dry surfaces. The zero-depth spraygrounds have the advantage of not needing a reservoir of water, using the pool water they are in. On dry surfaces, three systems are available: single pass, where the potable water from the city main simply drains away; a recirculation setup, in which the water drains and is re-used; and retain and reuse, when used water is repurposed by other segments of a community.

The secret of a water playground is that the parents can relax. They don't have to be in the water. They don't have to worry about the kids falling in.

The one-pass system is cheaper to install, while the recirculation

system is more expensive—a separate filtration system is necessary—and obviously more environmentally friendly, which is no small factor in areas of the country for which water is a rationed resource. Yes, there are splash pads in California, where a drought has persisted for five years and government has mandatory water usage restrictions.

"We are big advocates of recirc because we look at water as being a very precious resource," said Ed Benck, director of administration and engineering at an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based splash pad and waterpark company.

"In California and Texas, they shut off all the single-pass systems. They allow the recirc systems to run and operate. They do a very good job with educating the public. Just like any municipality, if you're told you can't water your lawn or wash your car while down the street in the park there's a splash pad that's going to use 10 million gallons of water this summer, people have a hard time with that."

Benck said despite his company's advocacy of recirculation systems, seven out of every 10 of its clients choose domestic single pass, mainly because of the affordability. Not only does the recirc system cost more itself, but it needs more staffing. Benck said when a client chooses a single-pass system, his company has one more suggestion.

"We'll try to direct them toward some way to repurpose the water," he said. "Rather than just having it go down a drain, let's bury a 10,000-gallon concrete tank in the ground. You can use all that water for your site landscaping.

"We did one splash pad last year that was in a very water-sensitive environment and they wanted to buy a recirc system, but didn't have the funds, so they agreed that repurposing was the answer. They came up with the greatest idea. We'll take a 10,000-gallon tank, bury it in the ground and when that tank is full, the splash pad shuts off until we can repurpose that water for landscape or irrigation."

The community made the operation clear with a lot of signage, Benck said, and the community was fine with the compromise. The single-pass system with repurposing restrictions allows areas with budget issues to have some of a splash pad instead of no splash pad.

"The education of the public is so important. The public knew, 'It's 95 degrees, my kid went to the splash pad and pushed the button for the water to run but it didn't run because the tank's full of water. We're OK with that. They'll have to find some other way to cool off that day.'"