Feature Article - April 2015
Find a printable version here

How Refreshing!

Updating Splash Play to Meet New Demands

By Dawn Klingensmith


One drawback of recirculating systems is the maintenance required. Some jurisdictions have it worse than others. Although automated systems have long been available to check chemical levels, the state of Ohio decided that's not good enough given the risk of waterborne illnesses. State regulations that took effect in 2011 require in-person tests of the chlorination systems, which initially cost the city of Middletown almost $500 a week in overtime to keep its sprayground open throughout the summer. The sprayground was equipped with a recirculating water system to chlorinate the water, and the law that took effect after it was installed requires such systems to be tested in person every six hours, even if it is automated.

The automated systems aren't foolproof. In 2013 in Sapulpa, Okla., 17 sprayground users reported rashes and sores consistent with a chemical burn. It was later determined that the automated system broke. There have also been complaints that over-chlorinated splash play areas bleach children's clothing.

Because recirculating systems have their own set of challenges and flow-through systems are now being designed and installed with sustainability in mind, some municipalities are converting their recirculating systems into single-pass systems. "People think recirculation is the only responsible way to go, but there are ways to use a single-pass system responsibly, including low-flow nozzles, activators and sequencing designed to minimize water consumption while maximizing fun," said Stephen Hamelin, president of an aquatic structure manufacturer based in Quebec.

Overdone Themes

Municipalities used to rely heavily on themes to attract people to splash play areas, sustain their interest and keep them coming back. Water play products were, and are, available in a range of themes including animal kingdom, garden and, of course, nautical.

Looking back, some cities may have overdone it. "I think they felt compelled to mimic waterparks or theme parks," Hamelin said. "Sometimes, as adults, we tend to focus too much on a theme at the expense of playability."

While theming can be effective, heavily themed spraygrounds may start to appear dated sooner than the ones designed with aesthetics as a secondary consideration, behind play value. Focus groups and observation have shown that kids tend to get overwhelmed, not excited, by heavy overall theming. As for the water toys themselves, kids care more about fun and function than looks. That said, themes can be an effective way to market and expand appeal for your facility. Talk to your sprayground manufacturers about how best to meet your needs.

When it comes to sprayground renovation, some things are difficult to undo. Overzealous theming is one of them. "Usually if you've committed to a heavy theme, if you get tired of it you have to tear it out" Hamelin said.

That's why "communities that do a heavily themed splashpad usually regret it," Benck said.

Benck does not think new spraygrounds should be devoid of a theme, but said theming should be subtle (or "elegant," as Hamelin describes it). For example, colors can be used to suggest a theme. Instead of a big centerpiece, "just use nautical colors throughout, like red, white and the different shades of blue to suggest the ocean and a boat and the seashore," Benck suggested.

It's not necessary to have a theme at all; a "nice design that complements the environment will stand the test of time," Hamelin said.

When water structures start to show a little wear or could benefit from a purely cosmetic makeover, it is possible to refurbish them and paint them a different color. "Color makes a huge difference. We took all the structures off the pad for a municipality here in Minnesota, sanded them down, repainted them and changed all the colors," Benck said. For about $5,000, they achieved a whole new look, he added.