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Kids Set to Get Wet

Spray 'N Play Splash Pad
Proves a Refreshing, Cost-Effective
Alternative to a Pool Facility

by Alejandra Pares and Lori Magee

The pre-teens at center are playing with Buffalo Grove's Bernoulli Discovery Fountain, which is designed for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Some parks isolate features by age, but Buffalo Grove's lets children of all ages mingle.

TThere's a new way to get wet at Busch Grove Community Park in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove. On June 12, more than 500 people celebrated the opening of "Spray 'n Play," a unique aquatic playground operated by the Buffalo Grove Park District.

Watching family after family take a liking to the facility, it looks like this "Splashpad," as the water-fountain concept is dubbed by its Canadian manufacturer, is exactly what the community needs.

Wanted: Better Splash for Less Cash

Buffalo Grove, in southern Lake County, is known for its education system and affluent demographics. The area offers country charm, serenity and easy access to the cultural and business centers of nearby Chicago. Described as a young, aggressive community with strong academic programs, controlled development, and active citizen involvement, Buffalo Grove is listed as one of "Fifty Fabulous Places to Raise Your Family" in a book by that title. Accordingly, the municipality is home to an abundance of young families--and over 90 percent of mothers there are stay-at-home moms. The town's commitment to its families is shown through superior schools and public services, extensive youth and family programs, and a total of 50 parks.

This toddler is jogging past one of four deck drains that make up the playground's recirculation system. Busch Grove Community Park pumps close to 650 gallons per minute, filtering and chemically-purifying the water before returning it to the play area. Other park designs use leftover water for irrigation. Some route it straight to municipal drain systems.

With such prosperity, one would think that Buffalo Grove Park District would have state-of-the-art facilities in all areas of town--a sophisticated community center, aquatic center, cultural arts center and theater. In reality, efforts to update the town's facilities have been limited.

Over the last decade, there have been five failed attempts to pass a referendum to build a community center. The 2000 referendum went down by less than 100 votes. The message from Buffalo Grove residents was clear: The community supported the need for additional space, but they it was not willing to fund these capital projects through a property tax hike.

A Refreshing Concept: Kids Just Wanna Get Wet

It has been said that Buffalo Grove Park District suffers from "aquatic envy." In 1993 and 1999, park districts in nearby Vernon Hills and Gurnee opened state-of-the-art aquatic facilities with water slides, recreational and lap-swim spaces, and grassy picnic areas. In 2003, neighbors to the east in Wheeling opened a modern, family-oriented aquatic center that became an immediate attraction for many of Buffalo Grove's residents. In Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove's neighbor to the south, a community-supported, $15 million dollar referendum was passed in 2001 allowing four aged pools to be renovated into attractive new aquatic centers.

In short, Buffalo Grove's families were leaving town to swim. That was an unpleasant reality for a district striving to be the first and best choice for community recreation. District staff considered what they could do to keep families in town. Officials knew that 'tweens, teens and families alike were lured by aquatic centers with brightly-colored water slides, lazy rivers and wave pools. Unfortunately, these types of facilities seemed to lie beyond the realm of financial reality.

These "raining buckets" were a hit with kids at the Buffalo Grove grand opening. Children sit beneath and wait for buckets to fill--and then spill their contents.

The epiphany came when the staff and administrators at the district realized that plans for these $5-million-dollar facilities are normally generated by adults with adult interests at heart. But what was the real need of the community? It was this: In the summer, people, especially kids, just want to get wet.

With this in mind, park administrators Mike Rylko and Dan Schimmel attended a seminar on aquatic playgrounds at the 2002 NRPA Congress in Tampa, Florida. It was there that they first learned about Splashpads. Fusing sleek architectural designs with fun-filled entertainment, these aquatic playgrounds are fully automated recreational systems that are revolutionizing aquatic play.

The manufacturer's typical water playground is an exhilarating environment with an assortment of flush-mounted ground sprays in a multitude of innovative designs. Designed to fire the imagination of children of all ages and abilities, the interactive playground can be launched into action by children with the simple touch of an activator. The result is an instantly dynamic and refreshing aquatic play area where different features spring to life in a series of pre-programmed spray sequences. Upon learning of the product's many benefits, Buffalo Grove decided that the water playground was an affordable solution for the upgrade at Busch Grove Community Park.

A youngster tries out a water cannon at the opening of Buffalo Grove, Ill.'s water playground last spring. The devices use multiple streams that limit flow--for safety and water economy. Other cannons have animal and cartoon-character themes.

Meeting the safety standards for public facilities set out by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the water playground is a safe, yet thrilling aquatic environment for the town's residents. While providing greater recreational options than a traditional wading pool, the facilitiy entertains a comparatively large number of people with minimal staffing, reduced supervision and significantly lower maintenance and operating costs. Ideal for entertaining summer camp participants and children of all ages, it also gives parents the option of watching the kids play without having to get wet themselves. As no neighboring communities operate a playground like this one, the Busch Grove aquatic playground has the distinction of being the first of its kind in the area.

Success in Waves

The realization of this vision happened in waves. The first step in the creation of "Spray 'n Play" was to find the best landscape architect to design it. For Buffalo Grove, it turned out to be Dan Dalziel, the owner of 3D Design Studio out of Grays Lake. Following numerous productive brainstorming and research sessions, the project team eventually chose 29 different play features that provide a variety of spray effects geared towards the 10-and-under age group. Visible from the highway and guaranteed to catch the eye, the brightly-colored features include dumping buckets, spray cannons, a rainbow, various ground sprays, and a special feature called a Bernoulli Play Discovery Fountain for toddlers and preschoolers.

This "water trio" is one of 26 spray features spread over the Buffalo Grove facility's 6,500-square-foot play area. Most parks spread features out to avoid clustering children--and all parks limit the number of children playing at any one time.

After the designer and manufacturer's representative, Howard L. White & Associates, secured all the necessary permits from the state health department, the project went out to bid. The contract was awarded to Schaefges Bros. Inc., and ground was broken on the project site in June 2003. Construction took less than a year.

No Drain on Resources

Busch Grove's water-play complex takes up 10,000 square feet and includes restrooms and changing rooms, a sunshade, two picnic shelters and an adjacent concession area.

As the village must pay for water, the facility also incorporates a system that disinfects and recirculates the water. While ensuring water quality, the system minimizes consumption and maximizes cost effectiveness.

While the playground cost close to $750,000 to build, the facility is expected to pay its own way. With a use fee of $3 per session, the playground is expected to generate $54,000 in its first year--with expenses of $40,000--resulting in a net profit of $14,000.

The Vortex-supplied hardware cost $140,000 with installation adding $100,000 to the bill. Restroom construction and other facility costs made up the rest of the total.

The playground at Buffalo Grove, Ill. includes features for children aged 2 through 13. The child at right is wearing swim booties, but the park's slip-resistant brushed-concrete gives it traction for bare feet too.

By comparison, the nearby Willow Stream pool costs the community $123,000 per year and operates at a loss of about $53,000 annually.

"Growing budget constraints and safety concerns are forcing many municipalities to look at creative new ways of meeting the recreational needs of their communities," says Stephen Hamelin, who founded the company. "As zero-depth aquatic play environments, water playgrounds offer more safety, higher interactivity and greater entertainment value than traditional swimming and wading pools while being much more cost-effective."

If they think about it, taxpayers and patrons of the Buffalo Grove Park District must be pleased that the district found an economically-viable way to overcome the village's "aquatic envy." Of course, the children don't care about that. All they know is that this summer they'll go home cool, happy and wet.

For information on hours of operation, community uses, or other inquiries, visit To find out more about water playgrounds and the companies who produce and install them, visit


Funding the Busch Grove Project

The Buffalo Grove Park District received a grant in 2002 for $387,000 from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to build the skate park, the water fountain park and two ball fields at Busch Grove Community Park. A total of $50,000 was earmarked for the project by Illinois State Rep. Sidney Mathias(R), of the 53rd District in 2003. However, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich later implemented a freeze on state initiative money in late 2003. To date, they have not received the funds.

In 1999, Illinois State Senator William Peterson of the 26th District awarded the Buffalo Grove Park District a $250,000 "Build Illinois" grant to put toward the parking lot construction at the site.

The area at Busch Grove Community Park was identified as being the ideal location for the Splashpad right from the start. The Didier Family used to own and operate a pumpkin farm on the property. The city bought the 76-acre plot of land for $11 million. Over the last few years, the city has developed the site and added many facilities, including a state-of-the-art fitness and medical rehabilitation center, a golf learning center, a True Ride skate park and the Vortex Splashpad, complete with a heated water recirculation system.

The park project (skate park, Splashpad, dry playground, parking lot, playground, two ball fields, interpretive nature trails, lighting and amenities) was funded through the city's budget (annual park and recreation budget is approximately $18 million). The budget for the park project was $1.4 million.

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November 22, 2019, 3:03 am PDT

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