inPERSPECTIVE / SPLASH PLAY: Simple Splash Pad Renovations to Boost Attendance & Fun
Although many pools and splash pads have been forced to close during the pandemic, savvy facilities have used that time for much-needed maintenance or even to embark on renovations. By creatively reassessing space and capitalizing on existing plumbing and pumps, aquatic facilities can create a renovation plan that will bring back old patrons and reach a larger group of new patrons to increase attendance and boost profits.
Aquatic facilities often start exploring ideas for their facilities when it's time to resurface slides, repaint water features or remove and replace deteriorated features. "A large part of what we do as consultants and designers is to bring awareness to the many things that can go in the place of an old water feature or an old slide or diving board," said Cory Anderson, aquatic consultant and owner of 80West Group in South Carolina. "We like to provide options that fit within their budget and timeline that will give the facility something new with a big 'wow' factor that will attract patrons."
There are hundreds of options, but not all facilities have the space, budget or time for huge renovations. "Aquatic facilities are trying to emulate waterparks by bringing small-scale versions of what people experience at Great Wolf Lodge," Anderson said. In fact, those in the field agree that aquatic renovations should strive to transform the space into a community's central attraction.
Use What You Have
One best practice is to begin with a reverse-engineering perspective. "We often begin working on our designs by determining what water lines, plumbing and pumps are already there and design around it, when possible," Anderson said. Maximizing untapped potential is the most efficient way to determine renovations that will provide varying levels of user interaction. "We frequently find that an aquatic facility has a fully functioning large-feed with a fully functioning feature pump and stable feed line, so we use that as our design launching point."
Many older facilities might have a single water feature that only serves one age group. One of the simplest renovations involves removing the older component and using the water feed to create a multilevel play structure. "I've done several projects where I have taken an old mushroom off that typically pushes 350 gallons of water per minute, then we have taken that same water to redistribute to a multilevel water play structure that can be bolted into the pool deck—using the same existing feed and existing pump," Anderson said. "We try to minimize the infrastructure costs and use what is there that is working and provide them with a big 'wow' factor with new play components to promote their facility."
Shelley Robinson, the Northern Alberta & Northern Saskatchewan Territory Manager of Park and Play Design, an Alberta-based supplier of indoor and outdoor custom play spaces, said new parks are now planning their designs for future renovations. "In the early stages of planning, new parks are now being engineered and built such that they are pre-planning for retrofits in the future, with the ability to easily change out the toys above grade," Robinson said. For example, mechanical systems are designed to allow for a simple ground spray to be updated to a dumping bucket. "Planning the piping and water pressure allows us to change out the spray elements from the top of the finished surface, reducing possible damage," Robinson said. "The majority of splash park manufacturers offer above-grade mounted spray toys that make this type of renovation simple."
For aquatic facilities looking for features that require minimal renovation but provide a big 'wow' factor, Anderson said poolside climbing walls and smaller slides are an ideal choice. "We find that older aquatic facilities typically have underutilized deep-end pools where the water is flat and not appealing to tweens and teens," Anderson said. "One of the easiest and best solutions for these areas is to add a climbing wall that has tremendous visual appeal and immediately attracts tweens and teens to those underutilized deep areas of a pool."
Smaller slides also provide a quick and simple solution, particularly for the often-underutilized "kiddie" pool. "When it comes to kiddie pools and splash pads, we immediately offer a slide for facilities looking for a quick renovation that packs a huge visual punch, attracts toddlers and younger children and is super easy to install," Anderson said.
These low-flow slides come in a variety of themes to give the pool the feeling of a mini-waterpark. "When helping a facility choose a slide, we show them the many themes available then narrow down a slide that will fit into their kiddie pool, splash pad or beach entry area such that they have the safety zones and clearances needed around the structure to be in compliance with all ordinances," Anderson said. Best of all, there is no need to break up any of the deck.
Planning for Different Thrill Levels
Features should be tailored to engage every age group. "The most successful renovations are the designs that provide comfortable play spaces for the really young ones as well as the older kids," Anderson said. Whenever possible, it's important to plan for a toddler area, a different space for the 4-to-7-year-olds and a bigger kid area for the 8-to-12-year-old crowd. "It's best to plan for multiple thrill levels in the design process so that your aquatic facility will engage every member in a family," Anderson said.
By engaging every member of the family, aquatic facilities are more likely to attract new patrons with children of all ages. It's also important to designate a toddler area with calming, interactive water features that are not too close to the slides, water cannons or larger dumping buckets designed for the middle and older children in a family. "It's important to plan and design with graduated levels of play focusing on beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of play," Robinson said. "The goal is to create safe opportunities to splash independently while also encouraging cooperation and team play which all add to the success of the destination."
The selection and arrangement of play features is key to ensure those with developmental or cognitive limitations have areas within a splash pad to participate. "Splash parks and spray decks are the most inclusive recreational space that you can plan, suitable for all ages and abilities," Robinson said. "Your 2-year-old or 85-year-old might just want a dusting of fresh water while your 9-year-old or 49-year-old wants the thrill of a dumping bucket. Walking, rolling or crawling, no matter how the user arrives at the destination, it's important to have comfortable opportunities to play in the water."
A variety of sensory experiences that build upon one another make the facility more inclusive for those with developmental and cognitive limitations. For example, designers can create a sequence of features, starting with sensory exploration with something as simple as a bubbler, and slowly graduating to those with more intensity. This sequencing provides participants the opportunity to try something more powerful, like an archway with spraying water, but also allows them to quickly retreat to a less forceful water feature.
More Than a Play Space
As with any community gathering space, a visually striking feature on a pool or splash pad can provide excitement and interest. A climbing wall, a themed slide or an iconic water feature can give facilities a waterpark feel that will attract patrons. Large buckets of water that anchor the splash pad add an element of attraction even when the facility is not in use. Just watching the water flow—even from a distance—adds to the excitement. One of the more eye-catching options for splash pads are large rings that spray a mist. These are both attractive and easily integrate into a sequencing design for inclusive play. Having water splash, cascade and bubble creates a series of soothing sounds, which invariably enhances the ambience.
It is also important to remember splash pads can serve as more than mere water play areas. Enhancing the overall visual aesthetics can lend year-round appeal. Some clients are adding lighting to their splash pads and changing their colors several times a year. "Water features with LED lighting serve to promote the facility at night, even when the facility isn't open," Anderson said. "There are many water and lighting elements that together create an exciting visual impact and even allow some facilities to extend their operating hours."
Robinson agreed, saying, "Community splash pads should be inclusive, attractive and unique. Programmed lighting and sound can be continuously reprogrammed for different seasons and holidays…an example being a flowing of red colored lights for Canada Day."
Creating spaces that complement existing elements in a community is a trend in 2021. "The intent to invest in a space that has a dual purpose is huge," Robinson said. "Communities want a play space as well as a form of art, especially in climates that only operate in the spring and summer season. Effective use of budgets and spaces encourage designs to be pleasing visually as well as being functional and inclusive." RM