Supplement Feature - February 2013
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Buoyed by Innovation

New Aquatic Design Trends Offer a Sea of Options

By Chris Gelbach

In a time of strained budgets and increasing customer expectations, innovations in aquatic design are giving recreation managers a variety of ways to reduce their operating costs and attract a broader customer base. Buoyed by new technologies, new features and an ever-growing focus on recreation, aquatic centers are creating offerings that are more successful both in revenue generation and in reaching target demographics.

Making a Splash

As municipalities look to provide recreational opportunities with lower budgets and minimal staffing requirements, perhaps no aquatic feature has gathered more momentum than splashpads. "We're definitely seeing a much bigger trend toward every park wanting a splashpad feature," said Corry Cloward, principal of the Provo, Utah-based aquatic design and engineering firm Cloward H2O.

Splashpads are being built larger, with more variety in design, and are being incorporated into the overall park design more elegantly than the circular cutouts of yesteryear. "More and more, we're seeing the landscape architect make it a real architectural feature of a park or space and incorporating the whole theme of the park there," said Cloward.

Some higher-end splashpad applications are even using variable frequency drive technology to allow for changeable spray heights. "We're working on several interactive fountains right now where during the day, it's a playground, and during the evening it's a water show with music, lights and sound," said Randy Medioroz, principal for Aquatic Design Group, an aquatic engineering and design firm based in Carlsbad, Calif. During the day, the sprays are kept at a height of 4 to 6 feet appropriate for children to play in; at night, the pump is ramped up for a water show, the sprays launching as high as 20 or 30 feet.

"Splashpads make a lot of sense in civic spaces, particularly urban areas where land is at a premium and it's tough to build an aquatic center, but you can entertain a lot of kids," said Mendioroz.

Using secure wireless Internet, it's also possible to set up the interactive fountain to be operated via iPhone or iPad with the proper URL and password. "You can program from a number of different scenes that are preprogrammed with different water effects, lighting and ambient sound, so you can mix up the look and feel of the place quite dramatically," Mendioroz said.

And now, these technologies are getting within reach of more facilities. "There have been some significant leaps forward in LED lighting, and we can get some of the choreography and lighting at market-friendly prices," Cloward said. "What used to be specialized is now commodity."

But while some splashpad costs are coming down, they remain aquatic facilities, not playgrounds. They still require a certified pool operator to run the filtration system, result in a power bill, are subject to the pool code, and need a mechanical space to hide the pumps and filters. "None of these things are really daunting requirements, but it's really surprising how many municipalities are caught off guard by them," Cloward said.

In a larger aquatic center project, these operational concerns are often minimized by putting the splashpad near the pool. "They'll do an indoor pool or two, and have an outdoor patio or plaza area that can be accessed from the pool area, so kids can go out and play on the spray pad and you don't need a guard there. Operationally, that works great," said Joel Roderick, project designer for Water Technology Inc., an aquatic design firm based in Beaver Dam, Wis.