Who didn’t love playing with the sprinkler in the front yard on a hot summer day as a kid?
In 2017 we’ve taken the same concept much further.
Today’s splash pads are incredible: they’re engaging for a wide age range, from toddlers to preteens; they cost less to build and maintain than a traditional pool; and they give parents the freedom to socialize nearby without worry, since the risks of drowning and injury are much lower than with swimming pools.
And when an appropriate surfacing material like poured-in-place No Fault Safety Surface is used in the splash pad’s design, those risks are reduced even further.
Steve Card, director for the City of Dalton (Georgia) Parks and Recreation Department, had this to say:
"Our splash pad offers a new and exciting activity for parents and kids, and because of the way that it was designed and the water features we chose to include in the plan, it can cater to many different age groups.”
"The splash pad has also become very popular for party rentals,” Card said, meaning the installation has also turned into a source for ongoing revenue for Dalton.
Splash pads can even act as a catalyst for economic development by fostering community pride and civic engagement. It’s easy to see why water play areas are the most commonly planned addition to modern municipal parks.
"We closed down three swimming pools because of liability issues/maintenance issues, and we had to build something else,” said Danny Jones, director of the Dublin-Laurens County Recreation Authority in Georgia.
"The splash pad has turned out to be quite popular. It has met our expectations and has done a lot for the community.
‘Some citizens say they want swimming pools,” Jones said. "But pools are big items early in the summer season and their attendance dwindles down, making them expensive to run.”
That’s exactly why aquatic centers, hotels and resorts, campgrounds, fitness centers, housing developments, military bases, and amusement parks all over the world are relying on kid-friendly water play attractions.
Do you represent a municipality considering building a splash pad? If so, here are a seven key considerations and best practices to help you begin the process. We at No Fault Sport Group hope you find these splash pad design tips helpful.
1.Rules and Regulations
ADA compliance, EPA regulations, building codes, and state health department codes will all factor into the design and operation of your splash pad. In North America you’ll also be subject to NSF/ANSI 61, which regulates drinking water system components. (Yep, those kids are sure to swallow some of the water while they’re out there having fun, so safety rules apply to the water as well as to the surface and structures that make up the splash pad).
2. Funding and Ongoing Costs
Funding is available from federal and state sources to get your splash pad project off the ground, and municipal bonds might help you fund construction and maintenance. If you’re replacing an old municipal pool that was too expensive to maintain or renovate, a splash pad installation will look great in a side-by-side, long-term cost-projection as you prepare your grant application or funding proposal.
What about ongoing costs? Because splash pads have no standing water, there is no requirement to keep a lifeguard on duty. And with some water systems, chemicals and ongoing testing aren’t required, which means fewer monthly maintenance costs.
Speaking of maintenance, it’s important to give some thought to the surfacing material you’ll need for your installation. Some splash pads use painted concrete or sand—two cheap surfacing alternatives that end up creating headaches in the long run.
If you feel like your plans for a splash pad are outgrowing your budget, remember this: Splash pads can be constructed in phases. You can change or add features over time as your budget grows over time and as you find additional funding.
3. Keep it Engaging
The best splash pads are user-activated. For example, a child might turn a dial and in response a giant mushroom will spray water into the sky for several minutes. By sequencing these actions in specific intervals, you keep the activity fresh and engaging. Timers and "action-reaction” features keep kids from being bored, and features that encourage competitive and collaborative play will keep kids engaged for longer periods of time.
4. Choose the right Pumping System
There are essentially two kinds of water systems that power splash pads: flow-through and recirculating systems.
In a flow-through system (also called "repurposing” or "single-pass” system), potable water is pumped onto the pad and allowed to drain into a storm system or nearby retention pond for re-absorption or irrigation. Water treatment and testing aren’t required, and energy costs are relative low. The big downside is water usage, which can be massive during a long, hot summer.
Recirculation systems, on the other hand, operate more like a pool. You’ll be using chemicals, filters, and pumps. These systems require tanks that are about five times the system's flow rate. So if the splash pad's features are operating at 2,000 gallons per minute, you’ll need a 10,000-gallon tank to maintain water quality. The ambient water temperature is generally much nicer than with a flow-through system (remember how cold the hose water was when you were a kid? Recirculating systems feature a much more enjoyable ambient water temperature).
5. Build to Suit
Splash pads are popular because they get kids moving even more than they would in a traditional pool setting. Accessibility and ADA compliance make hours of active play available to kids of all abilities.
Splash pads give the 2-13 age group something fun to do from late spring to early fall. When you’re in the planning and design phase, it’s important to remember that different ages have different needs. A zoned approach takes this into account, with different areas designed to engage different age groups:
- Toddler zone: This zone features mists and constant and gentle water flow—nothing too powerful or sudden. The "hands-on” features will be at a height accessible to children who are just starting to walk.
- Elementary-age zone: This zone is for active kids and features higher-volume sprays, dumping buckets, water cannons, and "action-reaction” elements (where kids trigger a water spray by stepping on a lever or moving an object)
6. Safety is First
By and large, splash pads are a safer alternative to in-ground pools. One distinguishing characteristic of splash pads is that they feature little or no standing water, and because they drain off immediately, they are "zero-depth.” That means they’re safe for kids who haven’t yet learned to swim.
In the design phase, you’ll need to consider slope grade, trip hazards and water velocity, and you still need to make sure the intense spraying and dumping features are kept in an area accessible only to older kids.
Still, in the research and design phase you’ll need to evaluate your surfacing options. One parks director who loved his community’s new splash pad and the impact it had expressed only one regret:
"In retrospect, I wish that we could have gotten flooring (other than) painted sand, because it does cut you if you fall. Different flooring is available and would make a difference.”
Overall, a rubber surface optimizes the aesthetics of the park while it minimizes injuries. Sand and brushed concrete are attractive surfacing options because they are inexpensive, but rubber safety surfaces are fast becoming the new industry standard for splash pads. A quality poured-in-place surface material is nonporous, meaning it will prevent bacterial growth and other buildup. It will also be slip-resistant and can withstand year after year of chlorinated water and sun exposure.
No Fault Sport Group’s rubber surfacing can substantially decrease the chances for injury, reducing liability that stems from unexpected slips and falls. The increase in traction helps to eliminate tripping hazards and is more comfortable for everyone with bare feet.
7. Use Expert Installers
Getting the right contractor for your rubber surfacing is crucial for obtaining the desired results. There are a lot of very common mistakes that arise from improperly installed rubber surfacing with municipal projects.
One of the most common problems is the "de-lamination” of water play surfaces. This is when a rubber surface separates itself and tears away from the substrata. Improper base installation, along with ground movement, debris and low-quality rubber can cause cracking, flaking and chipping.
Smoothing of the rubber is another concern that is brought on by water, foot traffic, and sand.
How should you address these concerns? Make sure your installer has the knowledge, skill, and experience needed for the buildout. Selecting the proper materials for the climate can help to avoid repairs down the road and extend the life of your splash pad installation.
Here are some additional splash pad design considerations and best practices for you to consider as you get deeper into your research and planning:
- Clearly define the goals of your project (public health, revenue generation, or community asset, etc.)
- Frame public discussions, budget numbers, and designs in terms of your stated goals.
- Consider various options for funding initial development of the splash pad so that capacity aligns with projected use and revenue goals.
- Cap users at a lower number than the official capacity for safety.
- Consider parking and other access issues early in the design process.
- Plan for expansion and new features (i.e. install more ground sprays than will initially be used and buy water features that can be upgraded or exchanged).
- Develop splash pads in close proximity to other public amenities such as parks, pools, picnic areas and community centers.
- Ensure adequate seating in shaded areas for adults supervising their kids.
- Weigh your options for splash pad supervision, either through a certified pool operator or city staff.
- Develop a plan for general maintenance utilizing staff from other municipal and county departments, where possible.
- Set aside a portion of splash pad revenue to pay for maintenance, upgrades, and expansions.
- Consider private rentals of the facility for special events to increase revenue.
- Designate specific times or zones for different age groups to promote age-appropriate and safe play.
- Encourage ongoing interest by alternating spray patterns, swapping out water features, and adding lights and sound.
At No Fault Sport Group, we can help you with splash pad design and installation. We will help you take charge of your investment while maximizing your budget to give your community the safest, most functional, and best-looking rubber surface available.