Then Carolyn Hamilton was shopping for play structures, she was bombarded with numerous options. “When I grew up, if we had something that was a big
blue blob, that was pretty exciting,” Hamilton says with a
laugh. The aquatics supervisor at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, adds,
“Now you need to have 20 different colors, it has to move in
different directions and [you] get to be a part of
She knew, however,
that having a play structure would create a “wow”
factor and draw more families to the leisure pool. So she and her
staff set out to find structures and elements that would be most
appropriate for each facility.
increasing trend in leisure pools across the country. In a recent
survey conducted by Aquatics International, 37 percent of
leisure facilities already had play structures. As Hamilton
indicates, many more are considering them.
But experts warn
that adding a play structure won’t automatically increase
attendance. To get the most for their money, operators must take
care in choosing the right structure that maximizes benefits for
patrons and management alike. Demographics, pool size, theme and
maintenance are all critical aspects that determine what kind of
play structure to select — and how big a draw it will
all of these aspects for the community, first consider the
demographics. Who attends the pool the most? Who has the potential
to come once there’s a play structure in it?
Until you know the
answers to those questions, don’t walk into a
designer’s office and tell them what you want, says Steven
Wagner, vice president of sales and marketing at SCS Interactive in
Englewood, Colo. Quite often, facilities are off the mark with what
they need. He’s had people come in requesting a structure and
features for populations that would not likely play with
“Based on the
demographic you determine, do you even want a structure?”
Wagner asks. “If you’re talking about a bunch of male
teens, they’ll want the fastest, the best slides …
wave pools, surfing machines. Not a
However, if the
demographic is families, then everyone’s on the same page, he
decided a play structure is appropriate, consider a wet deck
(sometimes called zero-depth) vs. a shallow-water pool. A wet deck
costs less because it doesn’t require as much water to heat
and treat, says Jeff Nodorft, studio director of waterparks at
Counsilman-Hunsaker in St. Louis. A wet deck also requires less
guarding and is safer in terms of drowning incidences, Wagner says.
Not being in water doesn’t take away from the overall
experience, and multilevel play is still possible.
wading pool “translates into more actual wet play area. It
also offers a place for parents and patrons to sit around the rim
of that pool,” he says. Even if the play features
aren’t turned on, the pool can be used.
According to the
survey, nearly 42 percent of those with play structures placed them
in zero-depth spray areas. Almost 33 percent were in shallow-water
areas in the main pools, and the remaining had separate wading
Regardless of which
type you choose, pool capacity and size must be calculated. How
many kids and families will be playing there at any one time? While
there’s no general rule for percentage of play space in a
given pool, Nodorft suggests the pool or wet deck should be twice
the size of the play structure. Similarly, manufacturers recommend
enough distance from the structure to the pool’s edge to
avoid splashing bystanders who may be reading books in lounge
chairs. Wagner suggests 25 feet for a tipping
Hamilton found one
of her features was spraying water out of the pool area and
draining away into the gutter rather than back into the pool.
“We had to tone down one side of it,” she says. She
also had to make sure water wasn’t splashing everywhere
following complaints from some parents who wanted to sit along the
side, but not become drenched themselves.
Treadwell Jones also
recommends using stainless steel piping rather than epoxy-coated,
galvanized steel throughout the structure, particularly at the
waterline. Corrosion occurs at the waterline, except with stainless
steel, says the director of design at the Schlitterbahn Development
Group with NGBS in New Braunfels, Texas.
Similarly, make sure
the finish is baked on rather than sprayed, says Nancy Arnold,
aquatics director at the Motion Fitness & Racquet Club in New
Berlin, Wis. The same goes for treated wood. A baked-on piece of
equipment will stand the corrosive environment
Lastly, price is a
huge part of the decision-making process. A single-platform
structure can start at $50,000 and increase in cost depending on
additions in valves and buttons, Jones says. In addition, replacing
and fixing elements adds to the original cost.
Pick and choose
considerations have been made, additional features, size and themes
can be selected. Again, keeping demographics in mind is important
when deciding what to add.
structure is good for smaller children, more economical and easier
to maintain. It also fits better in a leisure facility where space
is limited. A multilevel play structure appeals to older kids, and
can offer more features and attract more attendance. It’s
also more expensive, requires more maintenance and more lifeguards,
especially if there’s an attached slide. In the Aquatics
International survey, 60 percent of leisure pools had single-story
a community situation, [the play structure] is … an amenity
to an overall aquatics pool,” says Andrew Mowatt, vice
president of resort sales and marketing at WhiteWater West
Industries Ltd. in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. He says up
to two platforms is usually enough, unless the leisure pool is
similar to an indoor waterpark.
Features are the
most important and most fun to choose. Arnold added a slide that
doesn’t require a 48-inch height requirement so younger
children can use it as well as older ones. “[The structure]
has multiple places where water sprays out, and appeals to a lot of
age groups,” she says.
Arnold, who is also
owner of Certified Aquatics Professionals, a consulting company in
Delafeld, Wis., says different features and water pressures appeal
to different ages. For those younger than 5, small pops and quiet
play are more interesting. “They’re fascinated with
water pouring, water squirting, but you want to be careful not to
have a piece of equipment that will scare them by inadvertently
squirting them in the face,” she says.
“We may put elements on the spraypad and hopefully discourage
little people from even getting on the structure,” he says,
noting that toddlers should stay clear of the constant action and
older kids running around the structure.
For youngsters age 5
to 9, an interactive spray is a good choice, Arnold says.
“Things that they can do to stop the flow of the water and
start the flow and change the intensity — they like to do
things like that,” she says.
Nodorft says older
kids enjoy using squirt guns to fill other people’s buckets
that will dump over their heads, or soak their friends who get in
the line of fire. Even parents like to get involved in the water
cannons, Hamilton says. “They like that as much as everybody
else,” she says with a laugh.
Lastly, theming can
help tie the play structure in with the rest of the facility.
“The benefits are that you get a unique product that may
match some historic or [other factor] in your place,” Jones
says. “But I don’t rely on theming to make or break an
Nearly 78 percent of
those surveyed did not have a theme. Jones says it’s good
only if the facility already has a theme, such as a forest or
tropical setting. But other types, such as movie characters, will
look old in a few short years. “A lot of ‘Finding
Nemo’ fish floating around here is going to be so
[dated],” he says. “And it costs money — a
Instead, he suggests
providing textures or colors to enhance the play structure. Using
natural elements such as rocks and trees can be tastefully done and
challenge children to use their imaginations.
the play structure in top condition as the facility’s
highlight requires constant checks and upkeep. While manufacturers
provide clients with operations and maintenance guidelines, other
steps can be taken to ensure proper care.
want to invest have to understand there’s more work when you
have that type of amenity,” Hamilton says. “You have to
make sure anything that moves won’t come off or break
preventive care is the best kind of maintenance. According to the
survey, 61 percent inspect their structures at least once a week.
“Fix it before it breaks, and immediately address the
concerns as they happen,” Jones says. Check ropes and
pulleys, which receive much wear and tear throughout the
Also inspect the
tipping bucket regularly, looking at the bearings, pulleys and
support structure. The cyclical nature of the tipping bucket can
cause wear on certain parts. Make sure lines aren’t clogged
as well. The easiest way to figure that out is to note if the
various spouts are shooting water correctly, Hamilton
is critical if it’s an outdoor play structure, Wagner says.
Drain and prep properly and check the structure for mineral
deposits, necessary paint touch-ups, and new ropes and nets. Make
sure bolts are on tight and parts are moving correctly. Of all the
maintenance issues with a play structure, nearly 64 percent of
survey respondents said their staffs were able to fix the
If all is in place,
the structure is sure to impress patrons, Hamilton says. “The
sheer color, the fact that something had design to it, the moving
water — it was something to do and for kids to be creative
on,” she says. “It’s a big draw for people just
walking by seeing water shooting everywhere, and there’s
movement and all kinds of things.”