Splash Pad Renovation Q&A

When talking to experts about pool renovation trends for the feature story, "How Refreshing! Aquatic Renovations Bring New Life to Old Pools," we connected with Sue Koch, regional sales representative for Water Odyssey / Fountain People, with some questions about replacing kiddie pools with splash pads.

RM: Why are facilities replacing their kiddie pools with splash pads?

Sue Koch: Kiddie pools tend to not draw a lot of interest, and because they are underutilized, facilities are looking for ways to better use the space and bring new interest to the facility. Kiddie pools tend to be old and dated. There is little play-ability—not much for users to do.

We are now seeing many recreation departments, homeowner associations and community centers installing splash pads with features that welcome users with a wide range of developmental, cognitive and physical abilities, including different age groups, especially older generations acting as caregivers to children. In fact, this 'inclusive play' has become an even greater priority as outdoor spaces become the safer place to spend time outdoors.

As manufacturers and designers we see a trend in all playgrounds—whether dry play or aquatic—to design a play area that includes all community members, regardless of their age or abilities. Splash pads are no different, and they need to have sections within the play area that attract and encourage a wide range of patrons. Also, using a variety of water features, flow, spacing, size and color can make the facility even more accessible to its users. The inclusive play trend coupled with the needs of a community together dictate specific requirements within a splash pad.

Splash pads are being installed for safety reasons as well. Unlike a kiddie pool, because there is no standing water in a splash pad, parents can feel safer having a smaller child play in that splash pad. Splash pads are attractive to facilities because you don't need a lifeguard, which is a big plus.

RM: Are these typically found at standalone facilities, or are the original kiddie pools part of a larger aquatic complex?

Koch: It's both. The maintenance are for both kiddie pools or splash pads are pretty much the same. There might be a little more winterization in a splash pad because there are often more pipes involved with more water features, but it's not major. However from a daily maintenance perspective there is less maintenance because there is less water being used in a splash pad.

RM: Do you think it's less expensive to operate the splash pad vs. the kiddie pool? Might the splash pads draw more users? Any other advantages?

Koch: Pools, in general, tend not to be money-makers, especially for parks districts, but the more people the park attracts, the more likely the park is going to be able to break even on expenses. And because splash pads attract a larger portion of the population than a kiddie pool—parks tend to bring in more patrons—from babies and toddlers to tweens and grandparents and especially those with disabilities, both physical and emotional.

RM: With splash pads aging, is splash pad renovation common?

Koch: Yes, there are lots of features that are easy to replace using the same pipes and feeds. It's a way to give a splash pad a quick 'face lift' renovation.

A splash pad play area can become a gathering place for people of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds to relax and connect through the joy of water. Not only does the naturally inclusive landscape of a splash pad offer a fun adventure for a community, but also satisfies their unique physical and cognitive needs. A simple but powerful space, an inclusive aquatic facility offers a glimpse of the larger picture of universal well-being and connectivity.

RM: Do you ever get calls to upgrade mechanical equipment at splash parks, to make them more sustainable or efficient?

Koch: Most kiddie pools are either recirculation or flow-through, and when renovating these by adding a splash pad, the maintenance is the same and the system can either stay the same or can be upgraded. Recirculation of water with a water treatment system is common for splash pads. Splash pads use a much smaller amount of water therefore there is less gallons of water that need to be treated chemically. This means less chemical usage which also lowers operational costs.

RM: Anything else to add?

Koch: We help with the design and renovation of aquatic areas—whether it's renovating or removing a kiddie pool and replacing with a splash pad or helping an aquatic facility by adding a much larger splash pad area. We make recommendations based on space, budget and the vision they have for the facility. For example, we might recommend ground-level spray features are the least expensive when budgets are tight, as the bigger the spray feature, the higher the cost. So if a facility has a smaller budget, they can stay with ground-level features that are still really fun and interactive. We create designs for the facility, and we also create designs for landscape architects. We work to understand what the aquatic facility has for a vision and its goals for attracting patrons in the community.

We are seeing a lot of facilities, if they have the space, looking to add really large splash pad areas. If they add 2,000 square feet to an existing pool, for example, then they fence it, allowing them to open the splash pad even when the pool isn't open. This is a huge benefit for extending the season for the facility. The reason for this is that facilities tend to be limited by lifeguards. You see, life guards typically are only be available Memorial Day to Labor Day—and lifeguards are expensive. But in the Midwest, for example, you can get 85-degree days early in May—so a larger splash pad allows you to open it before Memorial Day before the pool is ready to open. And the same thing happens in the fall, when the pool might be closed but you still have warm days throughout the month of September. It's also easier and faster to open a splash pad versus a pool. So splash pads tend to be a season-extender for parks and recreation facilities. Plus these larger splash pads to bring more interest in the pool adding new features to the facilities so that more patrons can enjoy the water.

Oftentimes we find that using a large, iconic water feature piece within the splash pad is important. 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 serve more than mere water play areas. By employing strategies to enhance the overall visual aesthetics, a splash pad can lend year-round appeal to a facility, even in the winter. Some clients, especially homeowners associations and residential developments, are very interested in adding lighting to their splash pads and changing their colors several times a year. For example, red and green can be used around the winter holidays.