Historically Rich

By Peg Weber

The city of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department has always tried to be a good neighbor. So when area residents approached department officials about making improvements to Catalina Park, they were happy to oblige.


Built in 1906, prior to Arizona’s statehood, the park is located in the city’s WestUniversity neighborhood near the University of Arizona. Although residents wanted to pursue a Neighborhood Reinvestment

After repurposing a wading pool that had been showing its age and adding interactive play equipment that does not require on-site staff, the facility is now experiencing a rebirth that draws people to it. Photos courtesy of Tucson Parks and Recreation.

Grant, they quickly realized there was not enough funding for street improvements. With a desire to have a larger community impact, residents decided instead to focus on improvements to the playground and add a splash park. After repurposing a wading pool that had been showing its age and adding interactive play equipment that does not require on-site staff, the facility is now experiencing a rebirth that draws people to it.

Giving The Park An Identity
Because of the historic designation of the neighborhood and the park being a contributing asset, the plan review included approval by the Tucson-Pima County Historic Commission, as well as the neighborhood’s West University Historical Zoning Advisory Board. Sensitivity regarding what is considered historical, and what modern elements contribute to—or take away from—the history, led to many vocal meetings, requiring the diplomacy of all.

Meanwhile, the designers and builders focused on transforming an old wading pool—twice renovated over time—into a new splash pad and integrated play area. The original pool was a “draw-and-fill” pool, saucer-shaped, and easy to enter. A ramada (shelter/gazebo) with a clay-tile roof in California Mission style was originally in the center, located on a platform. To comply with a new health-code provision in the early 1980s, the gazebo was moved to the side of the pool, and an automated chlorination recirculating system was installed. During the recent renovation, the ramada received a facelift and a new ramp for access while the old playground was removed and replaced with a larger shaded structure with full activity elements, wood chips, rubberized surfacing, and important security area lighting. To maintain the historical elements of the park, the shade structure has a terra cotta-tile roof.

Onto The Challenges
Every project experiences some pitfalls, and Catalina Park was no exception. Construction challenges included low pressure, what with four water meters tied together in a looped system for the potable water needs of the wading pool and bathhouse, as well as the irrigation system. The decision was made to separate the irrigation feed from the potable feed to allow for the possible future connection of a reclaimed water system for irrigation. This was achieved by isolating one of the water meters and installing a new water line dedicated to the splash pad and drinking fountains. The remaining meters were left on the loop system, which was then directed through a new booster pump to provide complete spray-irrigation coverage to all turf areas.

Another challenge was an alteration to meet ADA regulations. Since the splash pad was going to be incorporated into a small complex that included the wading pool and playground, the fencing was originally configured so the pad and wading pool could be open together, with an adjoining walk-through gate or a gate that could be locked so the splash pad could be used for pre- and post-season activities. However, this proved to be too costly when it was determined the original bathhouse also would have to be renovated to meet ADA specifications. Instead, it was decided that the existing wading pool would remain in place to serve as a reservoir for the splash pad only. The water would be disinfected and recirculated without waste by employing this type of system. It was designed with a manual-activation system to allow residents the ability to turn on the water features as desired. Backwashing the filtration system was achieved by directing the water into a perforated pipe buried in a gravel-filled trench underneath a planting area. This allowed the water to infiltrate the soil surrounding the splash pad, and eliminated the need for a sewer connection while supplementing the watering requirements for nearby vegetation.

With the established park elevations, another major challenge was ensuring the elevation of the pad and the wading pool did not allow water to collect on the splash pad during or after operation of the water features. Unfortunately, due to existing park conditions, the elevations were too similar to prevent this from occurring; therefore, the water level was lowered in the wading-pool reservoir. A small upright spray feature was also added in the wading pool to provide a visual point of interest.

Add It All Up
As with many public projects and funding, there is rarely enough money to match all of the ideas and plans. Parks and recreation capital-planning staff, neighborhood leaders, contractors, equipment companies, and “in-house” staff members needed to work on irrigation and splash pad elements, and this took some time. But working through the challenges—physical, historical, and social—was worth the effort. Now there is a new group of wet and excited children (and adults) who can experience multiple picnics, super-sliders and climbers, and a park with a historical background older than the state of Arizona.

For more information about the project, please contact Peg Weber, TucsonParks and Recreation Specialized Services Administrator, by phone 520-837-8050, or e-mail Peg.Weber@Tucsonaz.gov .