Supplement Feature - May 2019
Find a printable version here

Making a Splash!

The Latest Trends in Splash Play Design

By Dave Ramont

It gets hot in Lubbock, Texas, in the summer, so finding a place to cool off is of great importance to residents. One such place was the local YWCA, but over the years the facility's outdoor swimming pool had become outdated and underutilized. So, during some recent renovations, the facility decided to put a new splash pad adjacent to the pool, hoping to bring some increased play value, according to Kelsey Johnson, director of the J.T. & Margaret Talkington YWCA at Sun 'n Fun Aquatics in Lubbock.

"We've had a pool at this location for about 50 years," Johnson said. "It was closed for a summer while we built a new 25,000-square-foot building around it. We knew when we were opening back up that we would need a 'wow' factor to get people coming back and attract new customers. It worked!"

Many facilities are finding that their older pools are becoming maintenance-heavy and expensive to operate. Some are closing altogether, but many others are finding that splash pads or other spray park amenities are just the ticket for getting people back to their pools.

This was certainly the case in Lubbock, where the addition of the splash pad to the pool area in 2016 has proven to be a great success. "We have more revenue and people coming daily since adding the splash pad," said Johnson. "The pool previously was popular to daycare and childcare groups for swimming, but the addition of the splash pad really helped get the general public to start coming."

The splash pad features bright blue and orange garden-themed elements. For the tots there are gently spraying fish and refreshing water spouts. A multi-level structure offers various textures of water effects, as well as a large dumping bucket and assorted waterslides. There is lounge seating around the pad and the pool, and a picnic area with concessions. "The slides and the bucket that dumps all the water is the highlight of the main splash pad. We also have a separate splash pad specifically designed for toddlers. It has gone over very well with the families that have younger children. Our pool also has a zero-depth entry, which is great for both elderly people and the younger children," said Johnson.

Oftentimes if there's already a pool, much of the necessary plumbing and mechanical infrastructure is already in place to add splash play. "Some of the plumbing is tied into existing plumbing and everything was tied into the well that we have here on site for our main water source," said Johnson, adding that the splash pad utilizes an eco-friendly water recirculation system.

Splash pads are accessible to young and old, and users of all abilities. "The demand for spray parks is constantly increasing in municipal parks and recreation centers, hotels and resorts, campgrounds, zoos, family entertainment centers, waterparks, theme parks and even less obvious places such as shopping malls," said Wyeth Tracy, president of a Canadian manufacturer and designer of splash pads and spray park equipment. "They realize that these safe facilities are not that big a capital expenditure, have tremendous draw for young families and produce more bang for the buck and lower operating costs than the big pools of yesterday."

The variety of venues incorporating them is expanding. "In places where land is a premium, and lightweight is required, we're adding splash pads on top of terraces in high-rise condominiums and on rooftops at shopping malls," said Tracy. "Where maximum corrosion resistance to salt air is required, cruise ships are also adding lightweight fiberglass features to their decks for added attractions for young families."

So, is there a difference between splash pads and splash parks? "A splash pad is generally a small water play area with no standing water, typically installed in municipal parks or smaller venues," explained Tracy. A zero-depth splash pad doesn't require lifeguards, cutting costs further. "A splash park or spray park is a larger facility, which may contain beach-entry water play in shallow standing water up to 12 inches, no standing water or a combination of both."

Beach-entry installations typically start out as sloped splash play areas and become constant-depth pools, which filter and chlorinate water the same way as a swimming pool. These pools can accommodate toys and elements containing their own pumps that draw from the pool water, while other splash-pad amenities require their own water feeds.

Designers can create visually exciting splash play areas and take many liberties, since these installations can integrate with any landscape and be any shape. A myriad of colors and designs are available, and some facilities incorporate a theme. Gentler water experiences like misting or bubbling water can entertain the youngest users, and tot structures might have scaled-down steps, handrails and slides and feature softer water sprays. Ground sprays spout arcs of water and other water features can be low, medium or high for running through or standing under.