Opening Up Or Closing Down

Splash pads are not really new. My first encounter with one was in 1989 with an early “in-house custom” model that had been installed at a park in the 1970s.

It was essentially a set of holes in a galvanized potable-water supply pipe that was erected 9 feet over a concrete pad; the pad was piped to drain into a creek at the back of the property.

It worked, but it lacked novelty; the concrete slab sustained algae and moss, and every year, a section of pipe or the gate-valve needed replacing. It was eventually removed since it no longer met the wastewater-management code.

Modern splash pads and spray grounds have come a long way. Besides interactive designs and individualized layouts that create unique travel circuits, many are installed with a recirculation system that filters the water and provides a sanitizer, and in many cases, a UV-treatment phase.

Although the modern system is considered better in most instances, it also requires a higher level of technical ability to troubleshoot and maintain to meet the health codes that apply to these features.

The town of Trophy Club’s parks and recreation department in Texas installed a new splash pool in 2010. While a spray ground, splash pad, and splash pool all use the same elements to eject or spray water, a splash pool exists where there is any depth of standing water.

This also creates the need for lifeguards and a few other mandates that come with operating a pool. On the flip side, however, splash pools create opportunities for slides into low water, which are not typically possible with spray grounds and splash pads.

“In all, I have been … satisfied with our spray pool,” says Jacob Lohse, the town’s aquatic coordinator. “It brought in double the amount of people from the year before, and I believe this year will be even better.”

Lohse was very involved with the vendors before the facility was built to ensure he knew as much as possible about the procedures and potential feature problems he might encounter. Despite the upfront knowledge, Lohse said he and his crew are still learning how to manage the unique features.

Develop A Maintenance Plan

The best strategy to protect the value of these investments is to have a customized, comprehensive maintenance program. According to Hillary Boen at Lewisville Parks and Leisure Services in Texas, this starts with conducting a thorough end-of-season inspection and wear-and-repair checklist for features. This past winter, Boen explains, the agency decided to keep water in the “pools.”

“In respect to the splash pads, that means we are keeping water in the surge tank. The feature pumps are closed off and drained to prevent any winter damage. The UV systems are turned off to preserve the light-bulb life. One bulb can get us through about three seasons or one full year. These run about $1,500 each. The pump motors and impellers are inspected during this time,” she says.

“We also order any parts that may need replaced or repaired. We do not typically replace the broken/missing parts until right before the summer starts. The weather is very hard on our splash pads.”

The managers at Lewisville realize they will replace the poured-in-place decking every 5 to 6 years, which allows them to budget for this expense.

Levi Biles of Grand Prairie, Texas, shuts his system down by draining and cleaning the storage tank, turning off all the equipment, and winterizing the pipes. General repairs to equipment or features sometimes are made during this time, but the majority of work is completed before starting up for the following spring/summer.

“We do not have policies set for the start-up of the equipment,” Biles relates. “We have operations manuals that give guidelines for starting up the system. If something doesn’t work or seem right, we contact the installers to troubleshoot problems or have them come out and fix what is needed. The basic start-up is re-cleaning the storage tank, attaching pipes back together, and turning on the system.”

Manufacturers and installers also play a significant role in splash-pad maintenance strategies. Terry Putnam, a sales representative of these products in Colorado, says the process of starting up a system can take up to three days.

“We send a technical specialist product/factory representative out to the site upon completion to do a thorough check and start-up of the systems, as well as train staff in the operation and maintenance of the equipment,” he says.

During this time, staff members are provided a comprehensive operations manual.

Those who have had great training are ahead of the game when it comes to closing down the system and preparing for the next season. However, what makes one efficient in a job is the ability to customize training, experience, and available resources.

Keep Track

To enhance efficiency as well as track repairs year after year, create a database of each activity. Not only will this help for organization, but it can also be a useful tool when creating the budget and time/task preparation strategy for the following year. Items to include in a database are:

• The item to be repaired

• How the item is repaired

• The cost to repair the item

• The time it takes for the repair

• The person who repairs the item (contractual or staff).

Keeping track of all repairs also will provide a solid indication of which items typically need replacing annually, biannually, or longer.

At the end of each season and a few weeks before starting up the system for a new season, contact any outside contractors who have previously worked on the facility, and speak with in-house maintenance crews as well. This helps to verify that the contractors you have used previously are still in business and that the facility is scheduled for repairs before the next season. Schedule in-house maintenance crews for any repairs they can conduct as well.

Helpful Tips

Every facility operator encounters unique obstacles and ideas of how to deal with maintenance. Here are some additional suggestions from Lohse:

• “There must be a way to consistently drain the spray pad. Our spray pad is only 15,000 gallons, so after one or two good rains, it begins to fill up the entire attraction. I installed a float-valve sump pump at the bottom of the pit.

• “Be prepared to change the batteries. Many of our features have buttons that control them. Some of the batteries last a month and some all summer. I would make sure to have many on hand.

• “Be aware that features may be constantly caked with calcium. We have fought this problem for two years. This is a recurring event, even though the water hardness is checked every day, along with alkalinity and cyanuric acid. We are, most of the time, in perfect range and we still had calcium all over our features. We also scrubbed them once a week and that it still did not work. I am working with our vendors to figure out this problem.

• “Expect to do extensive power-washing. Due to the problem above, we HAVE to power-wash our features to remove the calcium. Our vendors said not to. They recommended using acid and water to scrub off the calcium. That did not work at all! I had guys out there for two days, and we got nowhere.

• “Anticipate additional work associated with LEDS. We have LED lighting on the floor of the splash pad. Moisture gets in them all the time, which means we always have to take off the protective covers to clean them.

• “Expect features to get clogged with debris. This is a pain. Every spout of every feature gets clogged with particles. This is a daily occurrence. About two to three times a day, we have to clean out the toys.”

Joseph Walker is an assistant professor of recreation at the University of North Texas. His recreation background includes aquatics, community/special event programming, facility operations/development, staff management, and comprehensive planning. He can be reached via e-mail at

Laura Walker is a lecturer at the University of North Texas in the department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion, and Recreation. An alumnus of Clemson University, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management. Laura also has more than ten years of experience working for private and municipal recreation agencies.