Make a Splash with Minimal Cash

Photos Courtesy Of Hitchcock Design Group

Photos Courtesy Of Hitchcock Design Group

Splash pads offer fun and unique water experiences that are safe, compact, and relatively inexpensive compared to those at other aquatic facilities. The pads have become wildly popular even in challenging climates because of the minimal investment and space required. While most agencies are careful to spend public money wisely, it is important to look at short-term costs, long-term costs, and the value returned to the public for basic support items, the system itself, and experiential items in deciding about splash pads.

The Basics

Every splash pad needs a site, so let’s start with the surfacing. Since safety is first over all other criteria, the surfacing must be slip-resistant. Surfacing is available from poured-in-place rubber to natural stone, with concrete being the most common choice. This surfacing is controlled by the depth of brush strokes, and is of a common construction material moldable into a variety of shapes (thus, costs are relatively low). It also provides a good base for color additives, surface stains, or slip-resistant coatings.

The water source may have an impact on costs. Most domestic water supply is treated sufficiently to be used in a splash pad for many years. In some rural areas, or if water is drawn directly from a well, it can have a high mineral content that can break down the system over time. Water softeners, special filters, increased cleaning, or replacement costs may outweigh the benefits of using an on-site well. Additional pumps may be required to closely monitor and control use to prevent the capacity of a well or small domestic supply from becoming an issue.

Utility extensions, backflow prevention, a new power service, or drainage can soak up much of a project’s cost, which the public may not understand. For this reason, the splash pad should be as close as practical to the source of water, electric, and storm or sanitary service. Sanitary and storm sewers tend to be larger and deeper, so keeping these runs short is helpful. Water and electric costs typically include the ever-changing price of copper pipe or wire, so keeping these runs short also helps. Typically, water service will lead to the manifold with a single pipe, which then divides into multiple pipes to distribute water to spray features, so keeping the plumbing manifold close to the project can have a dramatic impact on costs. [i]For example, sliding a 10-feature system’s manifold 5 feet closer to the splash pad could save 50 feet of pipe.

The splash pad’s features can also have both long-term and short-term impacts on the budget. [ii]Ground sprays tend to cost less than larger overhead elements, and tend to use less water, so frequent use of these sprays will decrease the equipment costs, system size needs, and potential water-use fees. Some sprays require multiple actuators and, although they appear as only one feature, they may cost as much as three. Be sure to consider the target audience in the design. Younger children tend to enjoy the ground sprays, but the older they get, the more they gravitate toward a giant overhead element that will absolutely soak them. With the basics in place, you now have a decision to make about the system type.

System Types

Drain-to-waste systems are those that draw water in, spray out through features, and then allow the water to drain. All water is lost in a typical system. These are the least expensive types, as the equipment is straightforward and relatively common. They can range


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