Feature Article - November 2012
Find a printable version here

Maintenance & Operations: Spraygrounds

Playing With Water
Sprayground Operations

By Tammy York

One of the ongoing trends in public aquatic recreation facilities is to amplify the opportunities for younger children while decreasing the risks to both the children and the managing organization responsible for the facility. At the same time, older pools either need to be replaced or have major repairs.

Pool facilities have an inherent liability problem and must address the safety of the pool-goers through various means, including trained lifeguards to supervise the activities and staff members knowledgeable about maintaining water quality. Facilities running on government dollars and under continual budget cuts may not have the money to hire the staff needed, and in some cases there simply aren't enough qualified professionals to keep the pool open. This leaves management with no alternative but to close the pool facilities.

This intersection of events has led many facilities across the United States to opt for water playground installations, also known as spraygrounds, spray parks, splashpads and splash play areas. These elements are installed on a flat non-slippery surface and spray the water into the air. "With no standing water you don't have the water depth, therefore, you don't need as much supervision," said Wyeth Tracey, president of a Markham, Ontario-based manufacturer of splash play and other aquatic play equipment. The primary benefit of a water playground is there is no standing water and, therefore, no risk of drowning.

"There are a lot of requests for spray park additions next to pools because it is a feature that they can keep open during longer times," said Chris Thomas, marketing and advertising manager with a San Marcos, Texas-based spray park manufacturer. "Clients want to be water-wise and water-conscious, and splashpads has been an answer to that."

The elements included in water playgrounds vary dramatically, as do the various approaches to creating the water playground. What initially started out as stainless steel pipes drilled with holes has morphed into an extremely diverse industry where creative masterminds are only limited by budget and the size of the site.

Vivid Variety

Some water playgrounds are not much more than a flat concrete surface with a few drains and a few simple water spray elements, such as a mushroom in which the water bubbles out of the top and over the sides creating a long sheet of water for the children to duck through, an arch that has several nozzles that spray the water under the arch, or a geyser that shoots the water up from the ground.

"We started with pipe structures, colorful coatings and simple shapes," Thomas said. "We hired creative people with skilled backgrounds in theme-park style attractions and now we offer faux rocks, stainless steel and hand-carved foam, which is covered in a specialty coating system."

Simply due to the size and scope of the sprayground business, facilities can pick and choose who to work with. In deciding to add a water playground, you will need to choose elements that target your demographic and determine where it is to be installed, who is installing it, how many gallons of water are needed for the system to operate properly, what kind of sanitization and filtration system is needed, and if you are going to install water- and energy-saving devices.