Feature Article - November 2005
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Handy Solutions to Common Problems

By Stacy St. Clair, Jenny E. Beeh and Kelli Anderson

How To Design a Splash Play Area on a Tight Budget

What's not to love about splash play areas? They attract patrons, offer a colorful way to enhance parks and are just plain fun.

Splash play areas have been a lifesaver for communities struggling to provide aquatic recreation to their residents. And, now, the affordable option has become even more affordable with play areas that allow you to change and add features as your budget permits.

Here are some tips to consider when designing your play area on a shoestring budget:


Find out what works in other communities. Contact other facilities and ask about their experiences. Talk about specific features and learn how patrons have reacted to them. If possible, travel to that community and spend an afternoon observing the play area. Which features are the most popular? Which ones attract the fewest patrons? You also could bring children of various ages from your community and conduct an informal focus group at the neighboring site.


Keep in mind that splash play areas are not 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.


To create a splash play area that will attract children year after year, make sure your area engages and energizes them. Kids prefer active entertainment such as water cannons and buckets. A splash play area only made up of arches, spray posts and ground sprays will appeal to adults, but it may fail to hold children's interests.


Remember one size does not fit all. When designing your splash play area, 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 color, 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 family play. Chose features such as water tunnels and dumping buckets that promote imaginative play. Your final zone should provide high-energy activities with products that advance teamwork and competitive play.


Is a strict budget standing in the way of your dream splash play area? Don't despair. The industry has responded by creating removable anchor systems that allow you to add, replace and interchange play products without destroying the existing framework. You gradually can add products over time to maximize play value. Communities with several splash play areas can swap features, a move that would allow you to constantly rejuvenating the play areas.

Even if your budget allows you to purchase an entire play area at one time, removable anchor systems remain a smart choice. They can protect your investment by preventing the play areas from becoming stale, tired environments. The systems allow the play areas to be modified and renewed easily as demand dictates.


Don't be afraid to use the play areas to generate revenue. Many communities have made their play areas profitable by charging a minimal entrance fee. Others rent out the splash play areas for birthday parties and other special occasions.

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