Waterparks & Splash Play Areas: Cool Solutions

Shady Spaces Please Patrons

By Sarah van Wezel

How do you get the "big bang for the buck" when designing to attract and retain guests for your aquatic facility? Mark Hatchel at Kimley-Horn, an aquatic design firm, points out one cool solution: "The use of shade is an integral part of aquatic design and a way to provide greater guest comfort, create visual interest and serve a variety of functions such as group shade and shade over the water, deck areas, and rides for both guests and park staff."

Scott Stefanc from design firm Water Technology Inc./Neuman Group agreed. "These improvements go to satisfying one of the primary requests from guest surveys of what can improve their experience," he said. "Concerns about health and safety are prevalent not only in the guest's mind but also in the designer's process. Today we find ourselves adding more shade in development plans so that operators can add more in the future quickly and efficiently as budgets allow."

Incorporating shade into your aquatic design can go a long way toward creating a lasting visual impact on visitors to your facility. "The addition of shade to the facility is a dramatic improvement. These structures can be a focal point and will add enormous visual appeal, which is expected at today's aquatic centers," said Melinda Kempfer from Water Technology.

Score an "A" on your next splashpad or aquatic project by incorporating shade and the three C's—components, color and comfort—to ensure long-lasting cool fun on hot days.


Zero-depth spray grounds are widely nominated as the first option when upgrading aquatic facilities. Running a close second to slides for that "wow-factor" are splash play features, shade features and landscaping.

As a landscape architect and aquatic designer, Hatchel likes to think of shade structures as landscape elements. Trees and plant materials are often problematic near municipal pools, so he incorporates a variety of shade structure components to his design palette. The structures can be arranged in a variety of shapes such as sails, barrel rolls, pyramids, domes and umbrellas. By strategically placing different shapes and sizes, you can use the components to serve different functions while creating visual interest.

The Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department recently added five spray pads at five different parks—all with shade structures incorporated. "The structures provide not only protection for children from overexposure to the sun, but they have the added benefit of keeping the splash pad water from climbing over 90 degrees, which is a problem encountered at a similar location which does not have shade yet," said Park Planner Lee Baracas, Department of Facilities and Planning. "The shade structures provide a great benefit and we are saving money on chemicals, which is common at water temperatures over 86 degrees."


A cost-effective way to update the appearance of an aquatic facility is to incorporate color and theming.

Hyland Hills Water World, one of the nation's largest family waterparks, opened its family-friendly area, The Big Top, in June of this year. The facility made a number of renovations to keep the appearance current and add more fun. The new circus-themed area spans three acres and includes new slides, a family-style lazy river and circus animals galore. Colorful fabric shade structures were incorporated to create the circus theme.

"A circus theme was chosen as an outgrowth of the carnival concept established at the FunH2Ouse," said Terry R. Barnhart, planner and project manager for the Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District. "The idea allowed the Water World design team to use bright colors and fun animal motifs to create a new identity within the park."

The City of Cedar Park in Texas chose a more neutral and complementing palette to update the look of one of their new aquatic facilities. "We decided on basic colors of blues and a green to complement our Veteran's Memorial Pool," said James Hemenes, assistant director of parks & recreation. Stefanc advises using solid colors in groupings that pull from the surrounding elements. "This adds continuity and balance to a site and helps 'rest' the eyes as well as providing a 'way-finding' opportunity," he said.


For aquatic facility operators, the goal is to keep visitors in the park for longer periods of time and make them want to return. "Guest accommodations are becoming commonplace at aquatic facilities. Shade is increasingly important today over deck chairs and pavilions where guests seek comfort," Kempfer said. "A comfortable guest spends more time at the park."

At Veteran's Memorial Pool, providing adequate shade for visitors was the main reason they added their blue and green fabric shade structures. "It gets very hot in Central Texas and we wanted to provide ample shade for the folks to stay cool while watching their kids or just lounging next to the pool," Hemenes said. "We knew we wanted the 'soft' fabric shade structures, which were a better fit for our facility than the 'built' or metal structures. Underneath these shade structures the temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees cooler and that is where the majority of the people can be found on a hot Texas day."

Sun safety has become an integral part of daily living. Skin cancer rates are rising, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major contributor. Parents with young children are especially aware of the dangers associated with exposure to the sun. "The addition of these shade structures will show your visitors and employees that you care about providing a healthy, cool and comfortable environment to spend time in," Kempfer said. "Your employees spend a large part of the day outside and in hot weather this might lead to heat-related illnesses and an employee who may become less alert and unable to perform their duties well."

A Hot Cool Concept: Revenue Generation

Traditionally swimming pools and waterparks run by cities have not been self-funding. In today's climate with budgets stretched to the limits, more and more facilities are looking at ways to generate additional funds. By providing a cool, comfortable, shaded area they are able to meet the clients' needs and generate additional revenue.

Although not all facilities charge visitors for the shaded spots, many are increasingly discovering a lucrative side business in renting out shade areas where large groups can gather.

"They're a crucial element to the design and overall quality of the park or facility," Stefanc said. "We've noticed an increased demand for amenities such as cabanas and other covered, shaded areas that can be rented out to derive additional income. Aquatic facilities want to provide amenities for their clientele and increasingly they are getting additional funding from it as well."

This cool concept has been successfully incorporated at Northwest Community Park. "We originally added the larger shade structures for rentals for birthday parties. We have now started to utilize our [umbrella structures] as well for rentals due to the popularity. The revenue string is helping our aquatic facility", Hemenes said.


Sarah van Wezel is publicity manager for USA SHADE & Fabric Structures Inc., the largest shade and tension structure manufacturer in the world, and has written for a number of park and recreation, architect and playground publications. For more information, visit

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