Aquatic Envy

Spray N' Play
Buffalo Grove, Ill.

By Lori Magee and Alejandra Parés

The diagnosis was simple: The village of Buffalo Grove, Ill., had an acute case of aquatic envy, with all the classic symptoms. Neighboring suburbs were building state-of-the-art aquatic centers left and right, leaving the Buffalo Grove Park District in the proverbial hot summer dust. What's worse, the village had no budget to build a likewise dazzling aquatic center of its own.

But instead of going off the deep end, Buffalo Grove decided to tread in a slightly different direction when it came to creating a new facility—an aquatic playground.

This past June, more than 500 people were on hand to celebrate the grand opening of Spray N' Play, the colorful splash play area addition to the Busch Grove Community Park. Here's how it all came to pass.

Watering down the budget

First a little background: Buffalo Grove is known for its education system, upscale housing and affluent demographics. The village offers charm and convenient access to the cultural, entertainment and business centers of nearby Chicago. Described as a young, aggressive community with strong academic programs, controlled community development and active citizen involvement, Buffalo Grove is listed as one of the "Fifty Fabulous Places to Raise Your Family" in a nationally published book by that title. Accordingly, the municipality is home to an abundance of young families, and more than 90 percent of mothers in the community are stay-at-home moms. The village's commitment to its families is revealed through good schools and public services, extensive youth and family programs, and 50 neighborhood parks.

With such affluence within its borders, one would think that the Buffalo Grove Park District would have cutting-edge facilities in all areas of town: a sophisticated community center, aquatic center, cultural arts center and a theatre. In reality, efforts to bring the village's aging facilities into the modern era have met with resistance.

Over the last decade, there have been five failed attempts to pass a referendum to build a community center. The 2000 referendum went down by less than 100 votes. The message from Buffalo Grove residents was clear: The community fully understood and supported the need for additional space—they just were not willing to fund the cost for these capital projects through a permanent property tax increase.

A cool pool alternative

Meanwhile, the village's neighbors were busy constructing many crowd-pleasing facilities. In 1993 and 1999, respectively, local park districts in northern Vernon Hills and Gurnee opened state-of-the-art aquatic facilities with water slides, recreational and lap swim spaces, and grassy family picnic areas. In 2003, neighbors to the east in Wheeling opened a modern, family-oriented aquatic center that became an immediate attraction for many of Buffalo Grove's residents. In Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove's neighbor to the south, a community-supported, $15 million tax-increase referendum was passed in 2001 allowing four old pools to be renovated into attractive new aquatic centers. In short, Buffalo Grove's families were leaving town to swim. That was an unpleasant reality for a district that aims to be the first and best choice for community recreation.

District staff considered what they could do to keep families from migrating elsewhere for recreation. Officials knew that tweens, teens and families alike were lured by aquatic centers with eye-popping water slides, lazy rivers and wave pools. Unfortunately, these types of facilities seemed to lie beyond the realm of financial feasibility. With a limited capital budget, the district wanted to improve customer service without breaking the bank.

The epiphany came when the staff and administrators at the district realized that plans for these $5 million facilities are normally generated by adults with adult interests at heart. But what was the real need of the community? Simple: In the summer, people, especially kids, really just want to get wet.

With this new perspective in mind, Mike Rylko, park district executive director, and Dan Schimmel, director of recreation and facilities, attended an educational seminar on aquatic playgrounds at an industry conference. It was there that they first learned about splash play areas. Fusing sleek architectural designs with fun-filled entertainment, these aquatic play environments are fully automated, zero-depth recreational systems that are revolutionizing aquatic play.

Upon learning of the product's many benefits, Buffalo Grove decided that a splash play area was a timely and affordable solution for upgrading the district's aquatics offerings at the Busch Grove Community Park.

The district chose a Splashpad manufactured by Vortex Aquatic Structures International in Montreal. Spray N' Play features an assortment of brightly colored stainless-steel play products and flush-mounted ground sprays in a multitude of innovative designs. Designed to inspire the imagination of kids of all ages and abilities, the interactive Splashpad can be launched into action by children with the simple touch of an activator. The result is an instantly thrilling and refreshing aquatic play area where various features spring to life in a series of pre-programmed spray sequences.

Meeting the safety standards for public playgrounds set out by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Splashpad enabled the village to create a safe, yet captivating aquatic play environment for its residents. While providing greater recreational choices than a traditional wading pool, the Splashpad entertains a comparatively larger number of people with minimal staffing, reduced supervision, and significantly lower maintenance and operating costs.

Ideal for entertaining summer camp participants as well as special events like birthday parties, the facility also gives parents the option of watching their kids play without having to get soaked themselves. Since no neighboring communities currently operate an aquatic playground like this one, Busch Grove's Spray N' Play has the distinction of being the first of its kind in the vicinity.

Floating ideas

The realization of this vision took place in waves. The first step in the creation of Spray N' Play was to find the best landscape architect to design it. Buffalo Grove gave the nod to Dan Dalziel, the owner of 3D Design Studio in Grays Lake, Ill. Following numerous brainstorming and research sessions, the project team eventually chose 29 different play features that provide a variety of spray effects geared toward entertaining the 10-and-under age group.

Visible from the highway and guaranteed to catch the eyes of passers-by, the selection of brightly colored features includes dumping buckets, spray cannons, a rainbow, various ground sprays, and a Bernoulli Play Discovery Fountain for toddlers and preschoolers.

After the designer and manufacturer's representative, Howard L. White & Associates, secured all the necessary permits from the state health department, the project went out to bid. The contract was awarded to Schaefges Bros. Inc. in Wheeling, which broke ground on the project site in June 2003. The construction took less than 12 months.

Splash and cash

The Busch Grove Splashpad measures 10,000 square feet (with room for expansion) and includes washrooms and changing room facilities, a sunshade, two picnic shelters, and an adjacent concession area.

Because the village must pay for water consumed, the Splashpad also incorporates a water-quality management system that disinfects and re-circulates the water. While ensuring water quality, the system minimizes consumption and maximizes cost-effectiveness.

The new $750,000 facility is expected to pay its own way. Though the admission price will be a nominal $3 per session, Spray N' Play at Busch Grove Community Park is projected to generate $54,000 in its first year, with expenses of $40,000, resulting in a net profit of $14,000. By comparison, the community's Willow Stream pool has expenses of $123,000 per year and operates at a net loss of about $53,000 annually.

Hopefully, taxpayers and patrons of the Buffalo Grove Park District are pleased that the district found an economically viable way to help cure the village's aquatic envy. Of course, the kids don't care about that. All they know is that this summer they had plenty to splash about.

For more information
Spray N' Play:

Vortex Aquatic Structures International: or 877-586-7839

Lori Magee is the former public relations and marketing manager for the Buffalo Grove Park District and is now the media relations specialist for Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Alejandra Parés is the marketing communications coordinator for Vortex Aquatic Structures International in Montreal.

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