Feature Article - April 2009
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Splashing Around

The Backyard Sprinkler Goes High-Tech

By Dawn Klingensmith

Kids as Consultants

Underscoring the popularity of spray parks, voters in Spokane, Wash., overwhelmingly approved a $42.9 million bond issue to fund the construction and development of a variety of aquatics and youth sports projects, including the installment of 10 spray pads throughout the city—many in areas where outdated wading pools had been shut down. Due in part to the struggling economy, bids came in lower than expected, enabling the park board to approve construction of one additional spray park, for a total of 11 at $250,000 each. All are scheduled for completion by summer.

Community meetings were held to gather input and ideas on design features. Having just as much if not more say over the designs were area schoolchildren. The parks department worked with the Spokane public school system to directly involve kids in designing each of the spray parks. The schools nearest each spray park location took part in informational and planning sessions with parks and recreation staff and outside design consultants flown in for the occasions.

"We actually sat down on the floor with the kids. It was a real treat," said Barry Russell, director, Spokane Parks and Recreation.

The children were shown pictures of different components and then cast their vote for their favorites by affixing stickers to the ones they liked best. Reflecting national trends, the Spokane children preferred water cannons above all, along with mushroom- or dome-shaped water effects they could hide beneath and ground sprays in general. And though there was some overlap in the kids' preferences, the process resulted in 11 unique designs tailored to the tastes and desires of each neighborhood.

"They're all one-of-a-kind, which adds a little bit of ownership and pride," Russell said.

The children's role in the design process was paramount, but Russell added that it's important that designers keep parents in mind, as well. Spokane's plans include lots of benches and shade structures for adult supervisors, as well as conveniently located trash bins and drinking fountains.

All of the spray parks are being installed in existing parks with on-site restroom facilities already in place, along with adjacent "dry" playgrounds. Layouts were carefully planned so that there are unobstructed sight lines from the benches to both the aquatic and dry playgrounds, as well as to the restrooms.

Another thing to keep in mind in the pre-design phase with regard to location and layout are weather and landscape conditions. Avoid high wind areas and places with a lot of plants and trees that could shed leaves and clog drains. Nearby sand would pose the same potential problem.