Feature Article - June 2011
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Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

By Emily Tipping

In light of their operating budget challenges, the majority (90.8 percent) have taken some measures to reduce their costs. The most common measure taken, by 58.3 percent of park respondents, was to improve energy efficiency at their facilities. This was followed by staff reductions, which 54.6 percent of respondents said had taken place at their facilities, and increasing fees, a measure taken by 53.3 percent. These top three actions saw very little change from respondents in 2010's survey.

Other measures taken to reduce operating expenditures saw a substantial decrease in the percentage of parks respondents using them. Last year, nearly half (47.6 percent) of park respondents said they had put construction plans on hold. This year, that number has fallen to 37.5 percent. While 39.3 percent cut programs and services last year, 28.3 percent did so this year. More than a third (35.9 percent) of last year's respondents had cut operating hours and nearly a quarter (22.8 percent) had shortened their season. This year, those numbers dropped to 26.6 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively. And while 13.1 percent last year said they had closed facilities, just 8.5 percent this year said they had done so.

Cutting staff was the second most common method used by park respondents to reduce their operating costs. Anecdotally, many are reporting hiring freezes or reduction in hours for existing staff. Less than one in 10 respondents (9.7 percent) from parks said they had plans to add more staff in 2011. The majority (78.6 percent) said they would maintain current staff levels. Another 11.7 percent said they had plans to reduce staff, a jump from the 9.8 percent who had these plans in 2010.

Splash Play

Splash play areas have been at the top of the list for planned additions at facilities of all kinds for several years running. More than a quarter of parks respondents (25.9 percent) said they currently include splash play areas among their facilities. They also are the most commonly planned addition among parks and recreation respondents, with 28.5 percent indicating they had such plans. Health clubs, camps and community centers were also among those most likely to be planning to add splash play areas.

Installed over zero-depth pads, splash play features offer facility owners many advantages. In addition to being highly popular elements in the communities they serve, they require far less maintenance than most aquatic facilities (though regular maintenance is required to ensure things are in working order), and have the added benefit of not requiring a lifeguard to be on staff to watch over the facility.

Recent developments in splash play features allow for theming with elements shaped like sea animals, plant life and other designs that go beyond the basic spray pole. In addition, features have been developed that have the ability to turn on when someone shows up to play, but turn off so as not to waste water when no users are present. Advances in water treatment also have come into play, helping ensure a safe experience for splashers.