From spray cannons and slides to sneaky soakers, the elements that make spray parks such magical water worlds are quickly becoming the desired solution for recreational enhancement in a number of communities.
Before deciding whether to build a spray park, it is imperative to take the necessary steps to ensure its success. By doing this, a designer can create a safe and successful spray park that will have a lasting impression on the community.
First, it is important to define some key objectives:
1. What is more important--play value or aesthetic appeal?
Although both are essential, one may need to be sacrificed for the other. A great-looking park enhances the surrounding environment, but a park that offers a variety of interactive play features as well as promoting creativity and imagination keeps visitors coming back.
2. Who is the target market?
If it spans ages from toddlers to “tweens,” decisions regarding features and layout will be much different than designing a facility appealing primarily to the 7- to 12-year-old market. Although adults design facilities and select features, children make them come alive. To create a successful spray park, a designer must objectively look at the features from the perspective of its target market.
Whether updating an existing facility, enhancing hotel amenities or creating a new public attraction, a spray park requires three essential elements--water, electricity and sufficient drainage. During the initial planning stages, it is important to know and understand local public-health and safety codes and regulations, as they can significantly influence decisions regarding water usage, feature selection and surfacing.
In recent years, public-health authorities have become more actively involved in establishing water-quality standards for spray parks. There may also be environmental restrictions on water usage that can affect the overall design. Even if specific standards do not exist, the spray park should be designed in a manner that makes efficient water consumption a priority.
Today’s environment supports three main water-management options:
1. Potable, drain-to-waste systems. Public water sources are used to feed the features in the park, and water is drained to the storm/wastewater system. This is a low-cost option for small spray parks with low water usage. It ensures a high-quality water source at all times, and reduces health risks.
2. Water treatment/recirculating systems. Water is drained into a holding tank, treated, and then reused in the park. This is a more expensive option, but the best solution for larger parks or areas with strict water policies. Many jurisdictions are mandating the use of a water-treatment system, and have established health codes for which these systems must be approved. The size and cost of a treated water system will vary depending on the size of the spray park, the number of features and the relative water-flow rates. Usage expectations for the park and the type of disinfection required (e.g., chlorine only, chlorine plus ultraviolet [UV] light, CO2, etc.) also play a factor in the cost. This is currently the most common form of water management in the spray-park industry.
3. Retain-and-reuse systems. Greywater (wastewater generated from domestic activities, i.e., laundry, dishwashing and bathing) is collected and utilized for other applications, such as irrigation, washroom facilities and street cleaning. Retain-and-reuse systems are a relatively new concept. They are specifically designed for each unique environment, and take into consideration the volume of water that will be captured, the amount that can be practically reused and the best distribution method.
Implementation of a water-treatment/recirculating system, or a retain-and-reuse system, requires advance approval from local public-health authorities. Most suppliers will work with a designer to provide the necessary documentation needed throughout the approval process. The time and effort involved in getting approval should be factored into the budget and project timeline.
Before adding a spray park to an existing facility, carefully evaluate the current water-management structure to determine if it can support such a facility. In most cases, it cannot, as water management for a spray park differs from many other applications. For example, an existing facility may not be able to accommodate the addition of a spray park due to the absence of a manifold or collection tank. Another reason may be a slow turnover rate (i.e., water must be turned over every 30 minutes in a spray park versus every three to four hours in a pool). Understanding these considerations in the early planning stages will avoid unpleasant surprises and budget increases as the project progresses.
Considering that water usage is critical in the planning stage, it is also important to understand the water’s source. Does the location have a primary water source readily available? Is it a potable water supply, well water, lake water or some other type? Answers to these questions can influence the overall site plan, as well as the design of the water-management solution best suited to the environment. Keep in mind the typical size of a supply line for a spray park is 51 to 102 mm (2 to 4 inches in diameter) with a static pressure of 0.52 MPa (75 psi).
Is an electrical source readily available at the prospective location? A minimum of 120 VAC is required to support a potable environment, but these requirements increase to 230 VAC single phase when water treatment/recirculation systems enter the picture. In addition, a qualified electrician needs to be on site for the installation stage of the project. Be sure to consider this when creating the budget for the project.
One of the key benefits of a spray park is the elimination of standing water. This makes it a safe and fun environment for kids of all ages and abilities; it also generally eliminates the need for a lifeguard. In order to accomplish this, drainage must be planned in the early stages of the project to prevent water from pooling, and to eliminate unsafe conditions. If the features are being added into a pool or beach-entry facility, lifeguards will be required, just as at a pool.
Location And Material Selection
Not all spray parks are created equal. It is important to consider the facility’s location before evaluating the different suppliers and options, that is, which best meet the project’s unique requirements. Is the environment supervised or unsupervised? Is it a public park located in an area highly susceptible to vandalism? Is it indoors or outdoors?
The answers to these questions will help determine the materials to consider when selecting the features. For example, if the facility is located outdoors, near the ocean or in an unsupervised public park, design materials, such as stainless steel with a superior paint, should be considered, as it will withstand vandalism, provide superior UV protection, and resist corrosion.
Choosing the right equipment may mean the difference between a successful spray park and a maintenance nightmare. It will also directly influence the amount needed to budget for features. Less-durable materials generally come with a lower price tag and a shorter warranty than their more-durable counterparts.
While many options are available for surfacing a spray park, local health codes, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, the budget, ongoing maintenance, durability and longevity should be considered when making a selection. The surface of the spray park should be nonporous, to prevent the build up of bacteria, and non-slip, to prevent injury.
Known for its low cost, excellent traction and minimal upkeep, broom-finished concrete is the recommended standard of designers and suppliers. However, new advances in surfacing options have led to the emergence of brighter colors and unique designs. These can be useful in enhancing the look and theme of a spray park, but they come at a higher price, and may not provide the same longevity as a concrete surface.
Stamping, acid etching and coloring can enhance a concrete surface at a more reasonable cost. Keep the project’s budget in mind when evaluating surface options. Although some might enhance the aesthetics of the attraction, they contribute nothing to the play value.
In creating a destination, additional amenities may need to be incorporated into the facility. Local health authorities may require a washroom or shower facility to be available. In addition, many parents request seating outside the spray zone, which provides good visibility of the spray park. It is also a good idea to consider adding shade structures over part of the facility and seating areas to offer protection on hot days. There may also be opportunities to include revenue-generating concessions and activities around the area when building a new facility, or when trying to improve revenue in an existing facility.
In the planning stages, spray-park designers and builders should carefully evaluate the potential site and investigate any external factors that may influence the success of the project. In doing this, the designer/builder will be better prepared to create a budget estimate.
Establishing A Budget
When creating a budget, many designers/builders make the mistake of focusing on the features as the primary expense. The features provide the visual impact and play value, but most of a project’s cost is associated with all of the other items that go into designing, building and operating the park (i.e., project management, engineering and various approvals). Too often, an initial budget does not adequately anticipate additional costs and as the project progresses, cuts are made to the features or site amenities in order to bring the project in line. Unfortunately, these elements are what end-users value the most; they should be maximized for the long-term success of the facility.
Some key considerations to include in a budget:
1. Project management
2. Engineering and design
3. Electrical elements
6. Surfacing options
8. Operational costs.
Developing A Theme And Conceptual Design
While themes may have a price tag, they can also do wonders in adding flair and continuity to an environment to make it more memorable. It can be as simple as adding a corporate logo or recognizing key financial contributors, or as exciting as designing an entire facility around a key theme with creatures, characters, colors and sounds to support the vision.
When planning a spray park’s layout and selecting features, refer to the project’s objectives and determine the demographic the facility is targeting. Understanding how the water sprays from the features, and how kids will interact with the water, is critical.
If only one age range is being targeted, the job is much simpler. However, it is more likely the spray park’s design will be geared toward a range of ages. In this scenario, it is ideal for the spray park to be divided into three separate areas, each with an activator to allow users to operate in that area.
1. Toddler play area (ages 1 to 3)
An abundance of ground sprays with softer sprays and bubblers should define this area. Any upright features should be sized appropriately; quick bursts of water or surprise sprays should be avoided. Toddlers like predictable water and continuous spray displays.
2. Family play area (ages 4 to 7)
Generally the focal point of the spray park, this is also where the majority of the larger features and themes should be incorporated. A large central structure, such as a slide, will become the landmark attraction, luring children and families into play. Musical features, character themes and spray tunnels are typically found in this area. Components should encourage social interaction and be designed for both independent and group play.
3. High-action play area (ages 7 and up)
A large mega-soaker dumping bucket or similar structure is a great focal point. Unlike in the family play area, cannons and cooperative play elements will dominate this section. Features can be further apart, as older kids require more space. Faster actuating ground sprays, more interactive programming (if using a controller) and components requiring cause-and-effect co-operative play experiences should be considered.
Work with a feature supplier to ensure the design is age-appropriate and safety is considered in the layout. Avoid overcrowding the pad with features, as these can present safety issues when kids are running through spraying water.
Once the conceptual layout and design have been created, consider engaging the community or key stakeholders in the final decision-making process. This is a great way to bring more end-user ownership to the spray park, as well as to gather unbiased feedback on which features will best suit the facility.
Installation And Commission
A typical installation will take from three to eight weeks, depending on site preparation, size of the park, selection of water-management systems and coordination of qualified contractors.
At this stage, it is important to monitor progress and ensure the installation is being conducted according to the design:
• Slope and drainage for the spray park are adequate.
• Plumbing meets design and manufacturer recommendations based on approved feature layout.
• Electrical elements are correctly installed and conform to code.
• Features are correctly installed.
• Pressure tests have been performed and adjustments have been made.
• Surfacing is completed to design.
• The park is commissioned and operating to the planned design.
Enjoy And Maintain
Spray parks are not “maintenance free.” It is recommended that facility operators/owners inspect a park regularly to ensure it is operating effectively, as well as to ensure the site is free of debris and/or potential hazards. Each feature’s nozzle should be observed for changes in water flow, which can indicate cleaning or adjustments are required.
Mechanical hardware and moving parts must be checked for wear and tear, and water pressure should be measured to ensure it meets manufacturer guidelines. A safety checklist (provided by the manufacturer) should be followed at every inspection, and maintenance records should be kept.
If a water-treatment system is in use, it needs to be checked several times daily to ensure the chemical levels are correct and the system is performing within health standards and regulations.
A spray park is a place to have fun, and the planning process should exemplify this. By taking the time to establish the needs of the community and making educated decisions based on long-term goals, a spray park can be built to meet everyone’s dreams.