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Financially Fashionable

As finances become tighter and legislation on pool regulations become tougher, parks and recreation departments are faced with finding new ways to use aquatics as summer entertainment, while keeping budgets in line. Some are turning to spraygrounds as a solution.

Eliminating Swimming Pools

Over the years, the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department has tried to find a winning combination to please its population with places to cool off in the hot summer months. Three years ago, the department incorporated family aquatic centers with a newer idea--spraygrounds.

“The interest and attendance have been much higher than with traditional swimming pools,” says Wendel Whisenhunt, parks director. The average stay at swimming pools was between 45 minutes to an hour. Residents are staying at spraygrounds an average of three to four hours per visit.

“Play value is much higher for the visitor, and the cost is lower for the city,” says Whisenhunt. “It benefits the department and our citizens.”

Because of the success with spraygrounds and aquatic centers in cost and entertainment value, Oklahoma City plans to eliminate swimming pools altogether.

“We’re reacting to trends in aquatic recreation. Adults and children are getting bored with pools. They want something more interactive, and with spraygrounds they have plenty of buttons and levers to push and pull to activate different features,” says Whisenhunt.

In Oklahoma City, spraygrounds have been installed near shaded pavilions and playgrounds. “It gives it a family affair,” says Whisenhunt. “It doesn’t create control problems. The parents can sit underneath the picnic pavilion and keep an eye on the kids. The kids can jump back and forth while the parents are in the middle, and have a clear view of either side.”

In Tacoma, Wash., there has been a three-fold increase in usage of the sprayground versus the wading pool.

“Whereas there was some initial resistance to losing the wading pools, comments regarding the spraygrounds have been 100-percent positive,” says Curtis Hancock, project manager for the city of Tacoma Parks and Recreation Department.

Before spraygrounds, Tacoma offered wading pools as its primary aquatics program. They were open for only six hours per day, five to six days per week. By replacing them with spraygrounds, residents now have a place to play for 11 hours a day, seven days a week.

“[It’s] a method of serving more people for more hours in a safer environment and [we] used them to replace wading pools,” says Hancock. Tacoma currently has three spraygrounds and plans to add at least three more.

In Dallas, only a fraction of the 22 Olympic-sized swimming pools has been eliminated. Those with great attendance will remain open, while others are replaced by spraygrounds.

“It’s unjustifiable to keep pools open when at some areas we see fewer than 100 patrons all summer long,” says Pyland. “With chemicals and individuals staffing the pools, the cost adds up.”

Reducing Costs

Spraygrounds not only provide a new concept for water play, but are also less expensive than traditional swimming pools. And because they are self-operated, they don’t require lifeguards.

“Attendance at city pools has been down the last 10 years,” says Whisenhunt. “The cost per service rate was up towards $10 per person. In an attempt to reduce costs and increase attendance, we turned to the idea of spraygrounds.”

“There is no comparison in terms of costs,” he adds. The cost savings associated with the switch has been incredible. The pools in Oklahoma City ran about $34,000 to operate per season. The spraygrounds only cost $7,000 a season to operate.

Aside from a financial savings for lifeguards and maintenance staff, Dallas officials are hoping to save a natural resource--the pools require over 200,000 gallons of water, while a sprayground operates on 4,000 gallons.

Low Maintenance

“Spraygrounds were a great alternative for both efficiency and ease of maintenance,” says Kenneth Pyland, project manager for planning and design for the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department.

In Oklahoma City, daily maintenance includes a visit to the sites to check for clogs and drain overflow. In the winter months, staff thoroughly examines the computers on the spraygrounds. Technicians check the chemical controls twice a day in Dallas. They also check to make sure any of the toys and attachments haven’t been broken or clogged.

Filters are checked and cleaned on a daily basis in Tacoma. The health department requires water to be replaced on a weekly basis (approx 3,000 gallons). Chemical treatment is automatic, but the health department still requires daily hand-testing for verification.

Safety

“Kids want to run, and this gives them a safe place to do it,” says Pyland.

Spraygrounds offer a safe alternative to swimming pools. Since they operate similarly to a sprinkler in the yard, there is little to no risk of drowning. And with soft surfacing on the ground, kids can run and play without worrying about getting hurt or scraped by rough surfaces like concrete. The rubberized concrete surface creates a non-slippery cushion.

“In addition to the water quality, being better and more easily monitored, the site is now open 24 hours a day rather than being fenced with standing water in a wading pool that is an attractive nuisance,” says Hancock.

Tips For Building Spraygrounds

Choose a water system that makes the most sense. There are three typesflow-through, flow-through with irrigation and recirculation. Some require slightly more maintenance to check chemical levels, but can have a cost savings in the amount of water used.

Choose standard designs to cut costs. If you are looking at building more than one facility at a time, stick to a simple design to cut architect redesign costs. If you’re doing multiple spraygrounds, make them the same design if the area permits.

Think efficiently. Oklahoma City installed 10 at once, and was able to cut costs in production.

Check utilities in proximity to the proposed site. If they aren’t nearby, the land may have to be reworked or a new location selected.

Take into consideration the amount of dirt or flat work that will need to be done, advises Whisenhunt. Drainage will be a major factor, so site prep needs to be mapped out in advance.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com.

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