Plan Ahead

Editor's Note: Parks & Rec Business magazine presents the eighth part in a year-long series of articles that will focus on... Everything H20, from pool equipment, safety, staffing and programming to profiles and perspectives on the latest aquatics facilities, water parks and splash parks in public parks and recreation.

A story recently came over the AP wire informing the general public about a trend that most in parks and recreation already know all too well. The gist of the article was that the traditional rectangular outdoor swimming pool is quickly becoming passé, and passé to the point that many are being replaced by interactive and water-park-like features.

An excellent case in point is Busch Grove Community Park in Buffalo Grove, Ill. The Buffalo Grove Park District notes that its old Willow Stream Pool -- a "traditional" pool built in the early '70s -- was costing about $123,000 annually to maintain and operate.

By contrast, its new Busch Grove Splashpad will cost about $40,000 to operate and maintain with projected revenues of $54,000, providing the park district with a $14,000 profit, which can then be infused back into its park system for maintenance and improvements.

Matching the Plan

The splashpad, as they say, was a no-brainer. The question then became how to effectively mix and match the concept with the overall park concept and the future of its master plan.

The 76-acre plot of land that houses Busch Grove Community Park already has a state-of-the-art, 70,000 square foot fitness and medical rehab center, a covered golf learning center, a skatepark, a double basketball court and double sand volleyball court, in-line skating rink, numerous trails and two ball fields.

It is connected, via a bike and pedestrian bridge spanning Route 83, to a 54-acre park with an outdoor pool complex, seven soccer fields, two ball fields, a disc golf course, bike paths and other features.

The master plan for Buffalo Grove Community Park also includes the final touch of a family aquatics center. Though on the books, the park district is seeking the funds to build it.

In the meantime, the park district wanted to bring an aquatics feature to the park that would meet both its budgetary and operational needs while effectively serving its family-oriented citizenry.

The splashpad would ultimately fit the bill, and will fit neatly into its future aquatics center, which the park district expects to include water slides, a zero-depth pool and splash pool features.

Additionally, a playground was developed adjacent to the splashpad. As Dan Schimmel, director of recreation and facilities for the Buffalo Park District explains, "The playground works well next to the spray park because, while it's designed for the same age group, it also serves the parents and families who come to watch softball, which is adjacent to the playground."

The Splashpad was part of larger park development project which included the playground, skatepark, ball fields, interpretive nature trails, lighting and amenities and parking with a budget of $1.4 million. A grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for $387,000 helped fund the project.

Meeting the Plan

As of this writing, the Splashpad had been in operation for three weeks. Early returns are hard to gauge since the weather was not being very cooperative those first few weeks.

Regardless of the weather, opening day still made a big splash, bringing citizens in droves to try out their new aquatics feature.

With interactive features manufactured by Vortex Aquatic Structures International and overall design by 3D Design Studio of Grayslake, Ill., the Splashpad's opening brought an estimated crowd of 500-600 residents.

Once the weather breaks, the park district expects a steady stream of users. More importantly, and because of the expected popularity of the feature, the opening day festivities allowed the park district to work out any potential bugs in the system.

Fortunately, according to park district officials, bugs have been few and far between, but they bring up great points and advice for others seeking to open a Splashpad, or similar feature, of their own.

One interesting and oft-overlooked lesson is the opportunity to offer "aqua socks" or aquatics shoes to users. The park district chose a concrete broom finish for the surfacing, and found that, unlike the no-shoes policies typically found on traditional pool decks, some type of aqua shoe or sock would help the user spare their soles and provide some additional concession revenue. The absence of aqua socks was not a problem of any significant proportion, but is certainly a good idea.

"If you've never gone to a Splashpad before, you're not real sure what to expect, and the opening brought out such ideas as the aqua socks and water-proof disposable cameras," says Lori Magee, public relations and marketing manager for the park district. "I actually wanted the water socks for the grand opening, but I couldn't get them in time. I found that you can purchase them with your logo printed for about a dollar apiece."

The splashpad has 29 different components, divided between bucket sprays, jets, water cannons, flush-mounted fountains and other designs.

Currently, the park district is experimenting with running three different sessions -- 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 2-5:30 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. -- with admission running at $3 per person.

Once the park has some history behind it, the park district will evaluate how effective it is to bring users into the park in three shifts. Though users can come into the park any time during a shift, it will allow the park to easily cap a session when attendance reaches capacity, which is 180.

The park is typically staffed with two people -- a cashier and an attendant. Schimmel says that morning sessions are the most heavily attended, so they plan to pare down to one staff person for the afternoon and evening sessions.

Mike Rylko, executive director of the Buffalo Park District, says it's important to create as much pad space as possible, and to include a buffer zone. This buffer zone is needed for additional seating, shade, picnic tables and other amenities, as well as room for excess spray on windy days.

"When you throttle up the units to about 90 percent, and you get a wind across an open field of 15-20 mph, the mist drifts. In some areas we had to throttle it down because it was misting into our picnic areas and flower beds, so it's a good idea to increase your size of your pad area more than is required," explains Rylko.

Dale Ducommun, superintendent of parks, further notes that bathrooms are a key consideration. Given that the primary user group is in the toddler age range, it's important to have facilities that include correctly-sized fixtures, as well as family changing areas.

Since it is a family destination, the park district was sure to include plenty of shade and canopy structures, as well as enough picnic table areas for birthday parties and other family events. The entire park can be rented out by a group for $250, $175 if they share it with another group. Individual picnic areas can also be rented out during regular sessions.

"One of the things I would recommend is to have plenty of seating for the parents who come to watch. We might even kick out our fence and have a turf area for sunbathers," says Ducommun.