Once considered a specialized form of waterfeature, spraypads are becoming more popular.
Operators of public facilities like these features because they increase engagement with children of all ages, but don’t pose a drowning hazard, thereby saving on lifeguard costs.
“We’re doing more and more every year now,” says Jim Bastian, chairman of St. Louis-based Westport Pools Inc. “It’s really started to pick up the last three or four years. You can provide a highly attractive, highly used waterfeature for a fairly low cost on the front end, compared to a swimming pool. The operational costs are much, much less.”
Because lifeguards generally are not needed, some facility operators run their spraypads more often than their pools. “We’ve done several of them where the spraypad may be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the pool is only open certain hours when they have lifeguards,” says Rob Morgan, president of Dallas-based Sunbelt Pools. “So they’re fenced off for separation, whereas the spraypad is always accessible to the public. And sometimes the spraypad will be free, but the pool will cost money.”
These two aspects are so appealing that there’s been an increase in the building of these features at day care centers.
“We’re doing spraypads all over the South for privately owned day care centers,” says Terry Brannon, president of The C. T. Brannon Corporation in Tyler, Texas. “The [spraypads] are kind of patio-sized splashpads, but they have features that allow some to be operated for bigger kids, and some for crawlers and toddlers.”
Designers and builders also see these features on the rise in residential applications, although it’s still reserved for high-end of projects. In many cases, these spraypads will accompany a pool.
A splashpad or spraypark is a somewhat broad category of play feature. It can be as simple as jets that shoot into the air at different intervals all the way to dumping water buckets and other features to attract older children.
What they have in common, though, is the lack of pooling water. Instead, the water hits the ground, falls through openings and goes into an underground tank.
They also tend to attract smaller children. “I’d say the average user is under six,” Bastion says. “After 10 or 12, you see very little use compared with a pool.”
Here, experts provide tips on designing spraypads, from programming concerns to safety and water quality issues.
Add-ons versus stand-alones
One issue facing professionals is whether to connect the spraypad to the pool or build it separately.
In commercial applications, public-health officials may want to weigh in on whether a spraypad should share a circulation system with pools or spas on the site. “Some jurisdictions really prefer that they be stand-alone,” Bastian says. “The downside [of connecting the circulation system] is if you have a fecal contamination, you have to close the entire facility. Another reason for separation is it allows you to filter the entire amount of water at a much faster rate.”
If a pool and spraypad share the same water, the circulation system must be designed to move the entire volume much faster than regular pool turnover rates. This increases construction costs.
There also are logistical and staffing concerns that may call for separating the features physically. Some facility operators like to keep the spraypark available more hours during the day than pools, and keeping the two features separate allows this to happen seamlessly.
Mention spraypads to the professionals who build and design them, and this is the first issue they’ll discuss.
The water in sprayparks is more vulnerable than pools to bacteria, viruses and parasites that can lead to illness. It’s exposed to air and to children, who might sit on the features or run through them in dirty diapers.
For this reason, all water in the installation must be treated. Because of this, some codes require spraypads to be completely self-contained rather than connected to a pool. If linking the spraypad with a pool, the circulation system must be designed so that every drop of water that is sent to the sprays goes through the sanitation system of choice.
Some codes also require a back-up treatment, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to kill crypto and other bacteria instantly. Such methods can include ultraviolet light, ozone, super filtration, microfiltering aids, hyper-chlorination or a routine of draining frequently. Even if this isn’t required, experts strongly recommend it.
“It takes 11 days for chlorine to kill crypto, to actually deactivate it,” Brannon says. “But we don’t have 11 days. We have to ... get it killed. UV and ozone will do it almost instantaneously.”
On the surface it may seem as if the circulation demands of a spraypad are substantially less than a pool. After all, it’s generally a smaller body of water. However, to address the higher risk of water illness, the required turnover rates are much higher. In most areas of the country, the entire body of water must be turned over every 30 minutes, based on CDC recommendations. The system also needs to filter continuously.
For this reason, sprayparks can require larger pumps and plumbing than one might expect. When sizing these components, consider what it will take to move the entire body of water in 30 minutes. Variable-speed pumps can come in handy for moving the water so it is optimally treated.
“In our opinion, it’s best to have a pump that is large enough to handle all the spray features, but then at night when nobody’s in the pool and the features are not running, you turn the variable-speed pump down and filter it much more slowly to keep the water clean,” Morgan says.
Spray features often don’t run continuously, but are started when a child or parent activates the bollard — a device that is activated to turn the water on.
“In some places we have a little pad on the ground that you go and step on,” Bastian says. “Other times we’ll have a post — it might be an elephant — and you touch the elephant’s nose and that turns it on. Or it just could be a plain yellow, green, red or blue post with a button on the top.” Standard models are sold, but manufacturers can also make custom bollards.
Water also can be started with the use of a launch pad, ultra violet light beam or motion sensors.
The placement of these components should be such that children come to it as soon as they enter the feature. If there are two access points, designers can consider placing a bollard near each. Keep in mind that parents may sometimes help activate the waterfeature but won’t want to get wet.
“Generally we put the bollard on the outside edge where the foot traffic is,” Brannon says. “We normally wouldn’t put it in the center, because that would require somebody who might not intend to get wet to all of a sudden get trapped by water.”
These features require different finishing materials than pools or spas. The surfaces should be relatively slip-resistant and able to endure wet-dry conditions, which rules out plaster or pebble interior finishes.
Brannon has had problems with one material that might seem ideal: The pourable, granulated rubber surfacing seen in dry playgrounds. In his experience they seem to come apart in wet environments. “Everybody liked them — they’re so cushiony,” Brannon says. “The problem was it came up like pea gravel. It would end up in your filters, and it was always a problem to maintain it, replace it and upkeep it.” Be sure to check with the vendor about their ability to be immersed continuously.
On the least expensive end, designers can go with an uncolored concrete that’s brush- or broom-finished to add traction. Brannon likes to use cementitious products that contain fiberglass and can be stamped. He’s also exploring a recently release artificial turf made specifically for wet applications. It allows water to pass through a grid and run to its final destination.
For those spraypads with multiple water toys, designers should space and zone the elements to segregate children of different ages and engagement levels. “If you’ve got 8-, 9-, 10-year olds playing under their play features, you don’t want to have toddlers under their feet, because they won’t pay attention and they’ll run flat over [the toddlers],” Brannon says.
Additionally, the features should be spaced not only to accommodate their splash zones but far enough apart to leave a small dry gap in between. This allows parents to help their children without getting soaked. And, as obvious as it sounds, be sure to allow enough room for the kids. Some spraypads have too many features and not enough space for the users.