In recent years the desire for aquatic facilities has continued to grow. Families are spending more time together and limiting some of the long-range vacationing so common just a few years ago. With this in mind, and because the majority of municipal pools in the United States have “outlived their normal life”, many municipalities and owner/operators are finding that planning and designing for updating existing facilities is much like starting over. As the playground industry has experienced, new products and changing regulations or standards will affect your aquatic decisions now, and for future use.
There are many factors to consider when upgrading a facility including the area to be developed, safety considerations, maintenance issues and the actual design. But the most important factor to consider is your budget. Pools have their place and probably always will. In most aquatic facilities, the pool will be the most expensive area of investment. When you factor in construction time, staffing, maintenance and annual operating expenses, this becomes a major investment and one that many municipalities consider a part of their wish list.
Adding a waterslide or pool slide is another option to explore.
While the investment is not as major as that of a pool, thoughtful design should include the establishment of a separate area near, but not part of the pool. You should also consider how many patrons are able to use this attraction on a daily basis. Adding a feature like this is fun and exciting…standing in long lines is not.
For the past five years, zero-depth splash play areas have become the latest rage. They can be developed beside an existing pool complex or as a stand-alone park application. It’s been said that at least ten splash parks can be built at a cost very similar to just one pool, creating multiple play opportunities in a municipal setting. Areas can be as small as 600 square feet and as large as your budget can handle. These pads can incorporate interactive features and age-appropriate play. This way, children can play and interact as much as they like and don’t spend their time standing and waiting to play. And, because you don’t actually submerge yourself in water, operating seasons can be extended.
By adding a splash park to an existing pool, cities are essentially experiencing a rebirth of their pool. Many private clubs, campgrounds and housing developers use this as a drawing card and charge admission. Additionally, there has been talk of providing a token box to features such as a spray cannon as a way of increasing revenue.
Spray parks actually originated as an afterthought. When designing something different and exciting for Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics, it was decided to incorporate the Olympic Rings with choreographed ground level sprays. What was originally intended to be a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing water fountain, became something completely different. Not long after turning the fountains on, bystanders turned into adventurers by following the sprays as they moved around the circles. Children and adults of all ages enjoyed playing in the water.
Finally, research with insurance companies should be reviewed prior to any final decision. Pool liability insurance is extremely varied and must be addressed on an individual basis. Waterslide liability insurance is typically a minimum of $1,000 annually and can go up to as high as $5,000 or more for multi-flume designs. Splash parks, though still new in the industry, average $450 per year and up.
Be reminded, these are only general liability annual averages from different areas of the country. Please check with your insurance company for rates in your locale.
All factors considered, and within your budgetary numbers, upgrading and adding aquatic features is a popular decision. People are stimulated by water. It excites the senses and stirs creative and fun play adventures for a reasonable investment.
Do your homework. Incorporate as many patrons as possible through creative design and planning. Water play does not need to be seasonal, but it should include different activities from season to season for increased excitement and inclusion of all.