To flow-through or not to flow-through? That was the question two years ago when city officials in West Bend, Wis., were designing a new splash pad. Because of the uniqueness of Regner Park–the city’s oldest community park–a decision was made to push the envelope on innovation, and create a flow-through system that would use water a second time for a swimming pond.
A Unique Opportunity
Regner Park’s features originated during the 1930s when projects were iniated by the the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and Work Projects Administration. As with any park constructed during that time, it had great facilities that needed some updating, including the 1.75-acre swim pond and the classic “Citizens Conservation Corp” lannon-stone and dark-stained wood bathhouse and bandstand.
Since 1935, a well has been supplying fresh swim water to the pond through a waterfall, which swimmers also have enjoyed. In the mid-1980s, a second well was added to prevent the department from draining its entire aquatic budget on paying for city water to keep the swimmers afloat.
Thanks to the community’s interest in rejuvenating the park for its 75th anniversary, a plan was set in motion for the city’s first splash pad–Rotary Splashpad–at the park.
Staff members researched the flow-through vs. recirculation question, “Why can’t we use the current well system to supply water for the splash pad? Even better yet, let’s look at using one of the current wells to supply water for both the splash pad and swim pond.”
It sounded like a crazy idea at first, and seemed to push the limits of what some aquatic consultants really wanted to consider. It actually raised more questions than answers! But as most professionals in the parks and recrecation field have experienced, we usually are not satisfied until all options are explored and people are pushed to think, in this case, outside the splash pad.
The flow-through splash-pad system is a tried-and-true way to build splash pads in Wisconsin for two reasons:
1. Lower costs for both construction and operations are appealing to council members.
2. Less time spent by staff members with chemicals and backwashing makes directors happy.
Recent issues of swim-related illnesses throughout the country have made people think twice about recirculated splash pads. But how to answer the question of flushing the water down the drain, never to be used again?
Most communities in Wisconsin–and the Midwest, for that matter–that use flow-through systems are located near the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan, in our case) or other inland lakes and rivers, where the water flows to and is used again. This particular well-water flows from the swim pond to a small creek, then flows into the Milwaukee River and eventually into Lake Michigan, even though the city is 30 miles away from the Great Lake.
Choosing a flow-through system was very attractive because it saved costs with both construction and operations. The main cost of the latter was water usage. Since the city already had a working well, why not continue to put it to work for an additional activity? It was another selling point to the public as well, that water wasn’t just going down the drain.
Alternative To Recirculation
In this enlightened time of saving natural resources, staff members pushed to get extra use from the flow-through system. In a nutshell, a unique plumbing system that incorporates well water (approximately 75 percent) and city water supplies the splash pad, and then that water immediately drains into the swim pond.
Currently, the city water is used only to supplement the gallons per minute needed to supply water to the play features. Recently, a test well was introduced, and city officials are contemplating digging a brand-new well that will provide all of the water needed for the splash pad; however, city water currently serves as a convenient backup in case the well pump does not operate for any reason, so a decision has not yet been made.
One of the biggest concerns using the dual-use approach was the health of patrons. Would the “double use” of the same water be a problem? After much research, no issues were found with sending the splash-pad water into the fairly large swim pond. New well-water is pumped in each day, and the pond is treated with natural enzymes (but not chlorine) to assist with algae and other potential swim-related illnesses every two weeks. Despite the unusally warm summer, there were no health issues at the beach.
Another obstacle was the storage of the plumbing/mechanicals and their cost. The typical large box near the pad and combination picnic-shelter/mechanical building ideas were explored, but they would take up more green space and cost more money.
Suddenly, bad luck turned good. Because of poor structural soils in the intended pad location, the city was forced to move farther east on the property and within range of the 75 year-old bandstand, which just happened to have a huge “bomb-shelter-style” basement used for storing equipment from 30 years ago with no other intended use.
This reuse of the bandstand had a silver lining in the soil issue. It also saved a great deal of money, time and green space.
The only drawback with the flow-through system is that, according to the State Department of Commerce, water usage needs to be limited to 50,000 gallons per day. The splash-pad system is programmed to operate during the peak times of the day (noon to 5:00 p.m.). As much as there is a desire to keep the pad open longer, the residents have accepted it, especially considering the water usage.
Thanks to hardworking and talented staff members and a very supportive community, the splash pad and renovated swim beach have doubled the average revenue of the last 25 years, and attendance is the highest at the park in 27 years! But the greatest success is seeing the miles of smiles and hearing the squeals of delight as kids enjoy the Rotary Splashpad.
Each community is unique and what worked best for us won’t necessarily work best for the next community. Hopefully, this story sparks some innovation that lets uniqueness flow through.
Craig Hoeppner is the director of West Bend’s Parks, Recreation & Forestry department. He can be reached at (262) 335-5081, or via e-mail at email@example.com.