Spray ‘N Play Splashpad Proves a Refreshing, Cost-effective Alternative to an Aquatic Center
There’s a new way to get wet at the Buffalo Grove Park District. Last summer, more than 500 people were on hand to celebrate the grand opening of “Spray ‘N Play,” the colorful aquatic playground addition to the Busch Grove Community Park in Illinois.
Watching family after family takes an instant liking to the new facility, it appears that this Splashpad is exactly what the community has wanted and needed for a long time. The best answers, however, often have a way of revealing themselves slowly. This was the case at Buffalo Grove.
Wanted: A Better Splash for Less Cash
The Village of Buffalo Grove in southern Lake County is known for its superior education system, upscale housing, and affluent demographics. The village offers country charm, serenity 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 over 90 percent of mothers in the community are stay-at-home moms. The town’s commitment to its families is revealed through superior schools and public services, extensive youth and family programs, and 50 neighborhood parks.
With such prosperity within its borders, one would think that the Buffalo Grove Park District would have state-of-the-art facilities in all areas of town: a sophisticated community center, aquatic center, cultural arts center and a theatre. In reality, efforts to bring the town’s aged 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 Refreshing Concept: Kids Just Wanna Get Wet
It has been said that Buffalo Grove Park District has long suffered from “aquatic envy.” In 2000 and 2001, 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 dollar tax increase referendum was passed in 2001 allowing four aged 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 strives to be the first and best choice for community recreation.
District staff considered what they could do to keep families in town. Officials knew that ‘tweens, teens and families alike were lured by aquatic centers with brightly colored 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 the 2002 NRPA Congress in Tampa, Fla. It was there that they first learned about Splashpads. Fusing sleek architectural designs with fun-filled entertainment, these aquatic playgrounds are fully automated, zero-depth recreational systems that are revolutionizing aquatic play.
Manufactured by Vortex Aquatic Structures International, the typical Splashpad is an exhilarating play environment that 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 children 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 dynamic and refreshing aquatic play area where different features spring to life in a series of pre-programmed spray sequences. Upon learning of the product’s many benefits, Buffalo Grove decided that the Splashpad was a timely and affordable solution for upgrading the district’s aquatics offerings at the Busch Grove Community Park.
Meeting the safety standards for public playgrounds set out by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Splashpad enabled the town to create a safe, yet thrilling aquatic play environment for its residents. While providing greater recreational options 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 and children of all ages, the facility also gives parents the option of watching their kids play without having to get wet themselves. As no neighboring communities currently operate an aquatic playground like this one, the Busch Grove aquatic playground has the distinction of being the first of its kind in the area.
Success in Waves
The realization of this vision happened in waves. The first step in the creation of Spray ‘N Play was to find the best landscape architect to design it. For Buffalo Grove, it turned out to be Dan Dalziel, the owner of 3D Design Studio out of Grays Lake. Following numerous productive 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 eye 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 pre-schoolers.
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., based out of Wheeling, and they broke ground on the project site in June 2003. The construction took less than 2005.
No Drain on Resources
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.
As 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 2005, 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 2005 and operates at a net loss of approximately $53,000 annually.
“Growing budget constraints and safety concerns are forcing many municipalities to look at creative new ways of meeting the recreational needs of their communities,” says Stephen Hamelin, president and founder of Vortex. “As zero-depth aquatic play environments, Splashpads offer more safety, higher interactivity, and greater entertainment value than traditional swimming and wading pools while being much more cost-effective.”
If they think about it, taxpayers and patrons of the Buffalo Grove Park District must be pleased that the district found an economically viable way to overcome the village’s aquatic envy. Of course, the children don’t care about that. All they know is that this summer they’ll go home happy – and wet.
For information on hours of operation, community uses, or other inquiries, you can visit www.bgparkdistrict.org. To find out more about Splashpads and the companies who produce and install them, you can contact www.vortex-intl.com or call 877-586-7839.
Lori Magee, APRP is the public relations and marketing manager for the Buffalo Grove Park District, an Illinois Distinguished Leisure Services Agency.
Scott Broady is the marketing communications manager for Vortex Aquatic Structures International, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.