Feature Article - April 2012
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Forecast: Showers of Fun

Spraygrounds, From New to Tried-and-True

By Jessica Royer Ocken

The good news is, if you have a sprayground, your community likely loves it—as in flocking there the moment it's warm enough not to turn blue, and returning daily, all summer long.

But that's not to say you can't make it better. It's possible they could love it even more. Or perhaps the current level of affection is a bit much and crowd control has become an issue, a health issue even?

Beloved as they may be, and as delightfully low-maintenance as they are, spraygrounds are certainly not challenge-free. (Is anything?) A quick chat with sprayground managers, maintainers and designers around the country revealed a variety of considerations that must be sorted out by each community where a sprayground (or two, or 10) dwells.

However, the further good news is that an assortment of this knowledge and insight has been collected here for you. Whether your community already hosts spray-related play or you're considering ducking under the jets for the first time, you'll have a wiser and better informed approach to next season after just a bit of light reading. So grab your sunglasses and get started!

Add or Enhance Fun

Although many municipalities have had no problems attracting a crowd, like any investment, you want your sprayground to last and remain captivating to each summer's new season of water-players. That may mean new features, a fresh coat of paint or a spot to enjoy the action from the shade. With just a little foresight you can build in lots of opportunity for future added interest, and there are also a variety of ways to add appeal to the sprayground you already have, no matter your budget.

Interchangeable parts: "Our spraygrounds grow more popular every year and are an integral part of our aquatics programming," said Wendel Whisenhunt, director, Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. The Oklahoma City metro area is home to no less than 16 spraygrounds, and no two are exactly alike. The city chose a sprayground system that mounts each above-ground element on a universal base, so they can easily swap out one element for another or remove something to bring in something entirely new.

Metro Parks Tacoma in Washington operates six spraygrounds, which vary in size from 2,500 to 6,000 square feet, according to Planning Division Manager Doug Fraser. Each layout is different, but all use the same equipment, so they're interchangeable. "We bought three [spray elements] for one park and three different ones for another, and we interchange them so users see something different from year to year," he said.

If you're wondering whether your sprayground has this easy-interchange capability, talk to the manufacturer of your equipment about your options. And if you haven't installed your sprayground yet, consider choosing equipment that has universal base mounts.

Expand rather than redo: Various types of these interchangeable features for spraygrounds have been on the market for several years, according to Jim Crosby, lead designer, and designer of more than 20 spraygrounds, with Planning Design Group in Oklahoma. "But when it first came out, not everyone was doing it," he explained. "It does cost a few hundred dollars more per element, but that's still a good value."

If you don't have these swappable elements and you're looking to do something new, it may be wiser to expand, rather than tear up concrete and replumb, Crosby said. Look at what's around your sprayground. Even if you can't enlarge at the current site, perhaps there's something nearby? Two spraygrounds with a shaded area between them might be the perfect solution.