Feature Article - March 2011
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Maintenance Series: Spraygrounds

Don't Walk Away
Spraygrounds Require Ongoing Maintenance

By Dawn Klingensmith

"Make sure you have it in your operating budget to have someone trained in water chemistry to physically check each facility at least once and ideally twice a day," Morgan urged.

In addition to water circulation and sanitation, the play elements themselves need to be checked for mechanical function and safety hazards. Splashpad components often are interactive, making use of specialized valves that snap open and closed to control water flow when patrons trigger the device. These valves "create their own nightmare," Brannon said, "because they need to be replaced pretty frequently."

Moreover, programmable electronic elements "can be fried in hot or wet weather," he added.

End-of-season maintenance includes draining the water out of all pipes in preparation for winter freeze-thaw cycles. Galvanized steel components perhaps can withstand winter weather, but others may need to be dismantled and stored.

Certain splashpad features need to be carefully considered in the design phase to avoid or alleviate maintenance headaches down the line. The proposed shape and location could have maintenance implications, as can the number and type of spray features and drains. Topography, the arrangement and location of present and proposed structures, nearby vegetation and even the direction of prevailing winds must be taken into account. Treatment tank volume, flow and filtration rates, and other factors need to be optimized to ensure the system functions as desired as a whole.

Perhaps it should go without saying that splashpads "shall be constructed of materials which are inert, stable, nontoxic, watertight and enduring," as New York state code specifies.

Because there often are no attendants on duty, vandalism of splashpads is rampant. Nearly everyone consulted for this article mentioned the necessity of having components that can handle being hit by a baseball bat, suggesting that such targeted, determined abuse is widespread if not inevitable. Indeed, online news reports abound of splashpads closing for weeks at a stretch to repair severe and costly damage caused by vandals, and many get vandalized even before officially opening to the public.

Reflecting on such destruction, Brannon said, "A hard lesson learned over the years is that the public will willingly destroy something of beauty and value, and yet we see it time and again."

Blogger Alex Cenla offered a more cynical take after his hometown's splashpad was vandalized for a fourth time. Beneath a photo of the Commissioner of Public Safety's sign announcing the closure, he wrote: "Duh!!!!… (You do not put high cost, high maintenance, unsupervised high risk item's in a public park.)"