Think Before You Splash

By Cindy Guerra and Katie Schultz

In recent years, many communities with traditional pools have had very few alternatives for enhancement to their facilities. Communities must either look for funds to replace or renovate the facility or permanently close it. City parks and community centers also have been limited on alternatives for new construction of outdoor recreational facilities. Thanks to a continuing trend in aquatic recreation, there is another alternative that costs less to construct, is flexible enough to be used as a stand-alone facility or enhancement of an existing facility, and takes less time and money to maintain: the splash play area.


The planning process for a splash play area is the same as planning a new or renovated pool. A project budget should be set. The site to be used must be determined, taking into consideration whether the splash play area will be a stand-alone facility or renovated into an existing facility. Planning for the size of the facility includes deciding on what and how many water features to include as well as whether or not a small building for dressing and restroom facilities should be provided. Mechanical design will question how the water will be supplied and whether or not the water drains off into a city storm sewer or if it is recirculated with chemical treatment. Electrical design will determine where the facility will get its power, and after decisions are made on what features to incorporate, how much power is needed.

Benefits of stand-alone facilities

There are several notable benefits to a stand-alone splash play area. Since there is no standing water, splash play areas are considered safer than swimming pools. Generally lifeguards are not needed, electricity costs are low, and water can be recirculated, minimizing operational costs. Lower operational costs can mean free admission to the facility, encouraging all patrons to enjoy the facility. Stand-alone facilities can provide optimal recreation with the combination of a wet and dry playground.

Renovation alternative

Splash play areas are also a creative, cost-effective renovation alternative for an existing facility. Older facilities with a small budget are using the splash play area to update the facilities at less cost. Facilities with traditional wading pools not getter much use have found the splash play area can replace the wading pool and provide recreation for toddlers to adults. Demolition of the wading pool and construction of the new splash play area can take place without disturbing the main pool. Additionally, the designer can work to ensure as much of the old mechanical system can be utilized as possible, while updating the pump, piping and filter sizes for the new demand.

Mechanical decisions

Whether the facility is a stand-alone or part of a renovation, there are mechanical decisions to be made on how to handle the water supply. One alternative recommended mainly for the stand-alone facility is called a flow-through system, in which water is drained directly to the storm sewer or the health department's recommended location. This system requires constant running water. Because the water supply is constant, the flow-through system eliminates the need for recirculation piping, filters, chemical treatment equipment and chemicals. Maintenance costs are significantly lower since there is less equipment to maintain and no chemicals to purchase. At the end of the day, the water supply is turned off, and water is completely drained away.

An alternative to the flow-through system is using the water for irrigation. Water from the flow-through system can be captured in a storage tank to be reused for watering nearby green space or another suitable purpose. Because it has not been chemically treated, it cannot be reused for human consumption.

Finally, the more costly, but most water-conserving choice for water use is recirculation. This system involves filters, chemicals and additional piping through which the water is constantly recirculated. The addition of recirculation piping, filters and chemical treatment equipment will cause the cost of construction and maintenance for the facility to be higher. However, the efficient use of water is a significant benefit, especially for communities seriously concerned with water conservation. Make sure you check with your local and state health departments to see which type of system may be required in your area.


While there are many technical decisions to make regarding a splash play area facility, regulations on splash play areas are limited. A professional design consultant specializing in aquatic facilities can verify state and local regulations during design and before construction of these facilities.

Spray features

Before the splash play area, spray features available were minimal and were generally used to enhance a traditional pool. Spray features have evolved into interactive pieces that entertain everyone, old to young. These sprays can be equipped with activators such as push-buttons, levers, valves, turn wheels and other interactive devices that allow the patron to control the flow from the feature. Additionally, controllers with timing or sequencing capabilities can activate sets of sprays or the entire splash play area in a timed sequence with or without an activator.

Properly selected features and a well-planned site can be an excellent addition to any recreation program. While swimming pools will always be a popular choice, the lower cost required for splash play area construction, as well as the ease of maintenance, makes this a popular alternative for many recreation facilities.

Cindy Guerra is project coordinator and Katie Schultz is a design consultant with Water's Edge Aquatic Design in Lenexa, Kan. Cindy can be reached at; Katie can be reached at

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