They're bubbling up from Toronto to Ottawa and from coast to coast, nation wide as compliments to traditional dry playgrounds and existing pools, as well as stand-alone aquatics amenities replacing traditional pools altogether. For many municipalities, both urban and suburban, spray pads offer a simpler, more affordable aquatics recreation alternative.
With little or no standing water (and thus no lifeguard staffing requirements and cost), and a wide range of Waterplay options, spray pads represent a natural evolution of the backyard sprinkler cool-down concept. Spray pads represent a space where parents and grandparents can bring kids. The kids can play, and the moms and dads have a cup of coffee and relax. They don't have to be right next to the kids in case they have to grab them like in a wading pool. It's very much a social, community-building space."
Communities looking to build a splash pad still have much to think about. Here are several interconnected considerations:
Target audience: While the park-visiting experience may be multigenerational, spray pads will not serve the full range of users that a pool might, focusing instead on the toddlers-to-teens market. Serving that narrower demographic nonetheless requires variety in the form of gentle, non-intimidating sprays — even mists — for the youngest users and higher-volume sprays and dumping elements for older users. We often recommend separate zones for high volume and low volume Waterplayers. The image below shows the separate zones. We also try to include some comfortable commercial loungers to appeal to the encourage a relaxing environment.
Features: Water that jets upward out of the surface or can be manually aimed through nozzles appeal to toddlers, while teens more likely enjoy subjecting themselves to 50 gallons dumped at once. This is where choosing elements for a certain target comes into play and designing so that smaller Waterplayers aren't subjected to 50 gallon drops, instead placing those in a older Waterplayers area.
Specific features range from ground-level trenches with operable water-flow gates to animal sculptures with sound that shoot water down from 15 feet overhead — the flow manipulated by kids pressing certain valve caps to reroute the water. The key is getting kids moving and working together, even more than they might in a traditional pool setting, by using elements that require 2-3 kids to operate fully. Another example we use is making water tunnels that kids can run through to get them active, to get them moving around.
Sequencing: During typical operating hours (9 a.m. to dusk, for example), spray pads are user-activated. A child touches a switch, which signals a controller to activate a percentage of play features for a preprogrammed period of time (say, four minutes). For every minute out of those four minutes, different features are coming on and off. By these features being sequenced at different times and at different rates, it keeps it fresh and interesting for the kids.
System type: Exactly what percentage of a splash pad's features are active at any given time often depends on a most fundamental design consideration — the type of system specified. There are two approaches to splash pad mechanics: the flow-through system and the recirculating system.
In a flow-through system, water from a potable source is pumped onto the pad and allowed to drain into a municipality's storm system or, quite often, to be repurposed as irrigation. This method requires no water treatment and testing (nor the corresponding expense and staffing expertise), but water consumed by such a system — perhaps 10 million gallons over the course of a season — tends to raise a few eyebrows. In the interest of preserving water in a flow-through system, low-flow nozzles are typically specified, and perhaps only 60 percent of features are active at any given time, compared to 80 percent of features on a recirculating splash pad. For these reasons, splash pads that hope to cater to a wider range of age groups by enticing teens with "big water" are likely better off with a recirculating system.
A recirculating system, meanwhile, operates more like a pool — with chemicals, filters and pumps. Water is sent to the pad from a tank roughly four to five times the system's flow rate. So if the splash pad's features are operating at the extremely high flow rate of 2,500 gallons per minute, for example, a 10,000-gallon tank is required to allow the system to properly maintain water quality.
There's another advantage to recirculating water. If it's a drain-away system, their up-front costs are less, but they really compromise the play value of the splash pad, because now the kids are getting sprayed with cold municipal water, rather than a recirculating system in which the water is a more ambient temperature. It's like when you were a kid and you played with the hose at home: cold water!
In areas where you can't get power to the pad, we also offer the incredibly popular Eco Activator that runs simply on 4 C batteries. This system has 4 valves and when the waterplayer presses the activator switch, all the lines open and all elements come on at once. The Eco Activator really offers a all in one solutions for small and large parks, eliminating the need for a controller and manifold.
Surfacing: Brushed concrete is the most common splash pad surface, enhancing the safety and overall accessibility of the amenity. That said, manufacturers of resilient synthetic surfacing have emerged in recent years with products better suited to withstand the rigors of sun, chlorinated water and bacteria compared to previous formulations. The concrete broom finish is more cost-effective and it's non-slip, but if the customer has it in the budget, resilient surfacing is a really good way to go.
Spray pads have been around in various forms for decades, but their influence in the aquatics industry continues to spread. As more municipal pools become too old to justify their upkeep, aquatics alternatives that cost a fraction of what a new pool would cost to build and maintain start to look as enticing as a 50-gallon bucket dump on a 90-degree day.
As we continue to sell and promote spray pads, we believe that municipalities are just starting to understand this category of recreation and how they can integrate it into overall recreation.
Spray parks and traditional playgrounds blend so well together in any setting. We are excited to continue working and bringing spray pads to municipalities throughout Eastern Ontario.