Feature Article - April 2014
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Make a Splash

Spraygrounds Get (Even More) Creative

By Dawn Klingensmith

Design for the Ages

The need for a safe, separate space for toddlers and even babies has long been recognized, but continued focus on age-appropriateness has given rise to new design trends and product lines. As spraygrounds have grown bigger, the inclusion of multilevel, multiplatform play features is becoming more commonplace, as these elements help kids self-segregate by age. The bigger kids tend to gravitate to these structures, while the younger ones hang back in the peripheral area designed just for them.

"The features kind of sort themselves out by age group. There's definitely a relevance in height — kids gravitate to features" scaled to their size, Thomas said. "Kids 2 and younger really don't like water spraying on them with any force. They tend to like water spraying up."

A toddler area can feature ground sprays and other non-intimidating features that produce soft mists and gentle streams of water. Ground sprays offer high play value and ensure that even crawlers and toddlers can engage with and influence the water events. "They kick the water and try to plug up the nozzles," Thomas said.

Plus, kids of all ages love running through them.

Manufacturers have also added new options to the mix with linear ground areas that imitate natural flowing water with streams. Providing an interactive and educational experience for people of all ages, these features generally feature modules that help kids see—and even manipulate—how water flows through the system and affects people playing all along its linear path.

"We understand there are tremendous obstacles—financial and social—to park programming and how to create new amenities that bring families together for relaxing fun and leisure activities," said Stephen Hamelin, president of a Montreal-based splash play manufacturer in a press release announcing the company's linear ground play area. He described the innovative new approach as "…a game that encourages team play among children," as well as "…a place maker providing a gathering place for every member of the family to enjoy."

Setting Safety Standards

Despite the maturing of the sprayground market, "There's not a universal code governing safety," Benck said. "It's not addressed by an agency like ASTM. It would be great if the market could address this better."

A quick industry analysis led to Benck's estimate that as many as half of all U.S. jurisdictions don't have codes specific to spraygrounds. New York, California and Florida lead the way with standardization in the United States. In Canada, British Columbia is the furthest advanced.

"At first, I thought New York was really strict; now, I wish everyone would get there" in terms of codified safety requirements, Neilson said.

She recommends that clients design to the strictest codes (New York's, for example) because "standardization is happening," albeit gradually. For added safety and protection from waterborne pathogens, New York and California require that water sanitation systems be equipped with UV disinfection. "A lot of jurisdictions don't require it yet, so I tell clients, if you don't do it now, put in a system so you can add it later because the requirement is coming," Neilson said.

Although reputable sprayground manufacturers offer site supervision and site review at critical points during installation, and most offer "after sale customer service" to address any problems, Benck would like to see manufacturers band together to standardize best practices. He would like to see a certification program for installers, as there are for regular playground installers, to ensure they slope the concrete properly, safely coat it, and meet other safety and quality standards.