Problem Solver - August 2007
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Adding a Splash Pad Area

Our patrons have made it clear that they would like a splash pad area in our community. What are our options? Do we have to have a dedicated pad area, or can we add to our existing aquatic center?

Looks like we've got another park district looking to make a splash with the aquatic industry's hottest trend. It's a good thing, too, because today's aquatic consumers are a savvy bunch who simply don't settle for the old-fashioned swimming experience. They want to make waves and spray their friends. Fortunately, the aquatic industry offers several ways to enliven your programming without killing your budget.

Whether you retrofit your current facility with play products or build a splash pad is entirely up to you. Before you decide, visit other aquatic facilities and see what works for them. Talk to both facility patrons and managers to glean their opinions on everything from the popularity of certain features to the price of admission. After doing your homework, you might find your community can support both retrofitting your aquatic facility and building a splash pad area.

Splash pad areas have been a lifesaver for communities struggling to provide aquatic recreation to their residents. The pads attract patrons, offer a colorful way to enhance parks and are just plain fun. The always affordable option has become even more reasonable with the marketing of areas that allow you to change and add features as your budget permits.

When planning a splash pad area, it's important to remember that they are more than just wet playgrounds. If you fail to recognize this fact, it will create serious problems during the design, construction and operation phases. The use of water involves completely different considerations than erecting a playground structure. The area's infrastructure will be more costly—but it also plays a critical role in providing your patrons with a safe, enjoyable recreation area.

It's also important to remember that one size does not fit all. When designing your splash pad, be mindful of the various age groups that will be using it. Experts recommend creating at least three sectors, with each one featuring play elements tailored to a specific age group. Toddlers, for example, respond to colors, shapes and textures. The zone should be filled with non-intimidating features such as soft mists and gentle streams. The second sector should encourage social interaction and would be an ideal family play adventure zone. Choose features such as water tunnels and dumping buckets that promote imaginative and cross-generational play. Your final zone should provide high-energy activities with products that advance teamwork and competitive play.

If you're looking to update your aquatic center, keep in mind that pools cannot live by zooming drop slides alone. Not all facilities need new rides or major renovations to freshen up. Consider adding play products that can be retrofitted to an older swimming pool. Since they draw water directly from the pool, there is no need for expensive water distribution or additional infrastructure costs. Splash pad products are a great way to complement an existing slide by adding an area for toddlers who may not be old enough to use the slide. These play products include, but are by no means limited to, ground sprays, water cannons, dumping bells and soakers.

The beauty of water play products—whether used to enliven a pool or create a new splash pad—is their flexibility. You can interchange them to keep things fresh as long as a swappable anchoring system is used. Another benefit of splash pad products is that you don't have to go into debt to give your facility a facelift. Simply buy the products you can afford now and purchase other features as your finances allow.

Vortex Aquatic Structures International Inc.: