Ron Vitkun wanted to add more to his campground. Already, his Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Hagerstown, Md., had a heated pool and a kiddie pool, but no exciting rides.
Then a friend alerted him to two tube slides for sale from a Wisconsin waterpark. It had closed because someone offered the owner a grand sum of money for the park’s land. So the owner was selling the equipment at bargain prices.
But Vitkun, president of RV Properties Inc., in Williamsport, Md., discovered that it came with a different cost. Numerous variables must be considered, including condition, size, liability, codes and secondary costs. And once you’ve made the purchase, you must decide what to do when the new piece is delivered to your facility.
For operators who know what to look for, buying used equipment is a great way to add new appeal to a park. The following pages offer six important points for used-equipment buyers to contemplate.
1 How old is the equipment? Experts recommend buying pieces that are no more than 15 years old. “Twenty years is the useful life of fiberglass,” says one slide manufacturer. If the equipment is nearing the end of its life cycle, not much more value is left. Most people are looking to replace their equipment at the 20-year mark, which is good reason not to buy theirs.
2 Who is the manufacturer? Find out the equipment’s manufacturer, and call for additional information about the piece. If they’re no longer in business, don’t buy the equipment, says Kevin Hoffman, director of member services at the Park District Risk Management Agency in Wheaton, Ill. “You can’t necessarily get things replaced easily,” he warns.
Manufacturers say they often receive phone calls asking for blueprints and parts, as well as general questions about reassembling products. In some cases, the manufacturer can evaluate the pieces and suggest a better setup. With a slide, for instance, it can redesign a path that would better suit the new park’s elevation and topography.
3 What is the item’s point of origin? Distance makes a difference in the final cost. The farther the equipment travels, the higher the shipping costs. In addition, someone should visit the site to check out the equipment before purchasing.
If it’s coming from a cold-weather area, for example, and was stored outdoors, chances are the equipment has experienced more expanding and contracting than that kept indoors year ’round. The older they are, the more wear and tear these outdoor pieces may have.
4 Are blueprints available? These show exactly how the pieces fit together and work with the waterpark’s landscape. “Without the blueprints, they might as well stop immediately and light a match to it,” says one recent buyer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “I don’t think you could do it without engineered drawings.”
Alison Osinski agrees. “It’s like putting Tinkertoys together,” says the president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego. “There’s X-Y-Z coordinates and they’re meant to go in a certain pattern, but the pieces are somewhat interchangeable.”
If the blueprints aren’t available, call the manufacturer to see if they still have them for that specific park.
5 Is the equipment up to code?Older equipment might not meet current ASTM standards and state codes, says Jeff Nodorft, former director of aquatic engineering at Ramaker & Associates Inc. in Sauk City, Wis. Codes vary from state to state, so make sure the equipment passes your state’s standards. For example, some states do not allow several slides to exit into the same pool. Some require at least 5 or 10 feet between flumes.
Vitkun experienced such an ordeal with his purchase because he was the first in his area to put in a waterpark. “Nobody in the zoning and building department had ever seen anything like this before,” he recalls. It was a slow approval process, pushing his opening date.
Hoffman’s agency hands out an agreement to its members who are selling, donating or auctioning equipment. The agreement outlines risk management recommendations that should be in a buyer contract. The sample contract includes a disclaimer of warranties, a condition waiver and an indemnification provision that would protect the seller in the event of an accident.
6 Is it worth it? While the initial cost of the used equipment may be significantly lower than buying new, several additional costs must be considered which may or may not make a huge difference between buying new or used.
That’s why overpaying for the actual equipment is the biggest mistake people make, Nodorft says. They forget to add in the extra costs associated with having waterpark equipment, including a pool, pipes, pumps and goods that come with running a piece of waterpark equipment. In the end, you need to make sure the useful remaining life you just purchased is well worth it.
If the park has already disassembled the equipment, that saves money for you. Shipping and transportation is another expense, and further damage may occur during that process, requiring more repair to the equipment.
Reassembling the equipment at your park is yet another cost. The Winnipeg buyer says he planned to assemble it himself with the help of his staff and a hired surveyor.
“If it’s a 15-foot slide, you may do it all yourself and take 100 percent liability,” Nodorft says. “But a 40-foot slide, I would definitely recommend somebody who’s experienced in [assembling] water slides.”
Osinski notes that warranties are not transferable because the next buyer is not the original owner, so the cost of repairs would be up to the new owner. In addition, an engineer and surveyor are needed to investigate the structural soundness of the new addition, and to get permits and pass safety inspections.
She adds that spending extra money to have the equipment redesigned for your park is a wise move. It sometimes involves computer modeling to determine the fit and angle of the item prior to installation. “It’s easier to test equipment in a computer model than it is to put it together and try it out,” Osinski says. “A few inches off makes a difference.”
Check it out Once you’ve located a possible purchase, you should examine the physical parts to make sure it’s structurally sound and in good shape. “Obviously, it’s been in use and worn to a certain extent,” Osinski says.
Then make sure you have all the pieces. Use an inventory list and, if possible, check that the major parts are still intact. Look for cracks and wear on the joints. If it’s a slide, see if the fiberglass still has some slippage left. Refinishing an older surface is not easy and not always the best solution, manufacturers say.
Vitkun hired a surveyor, who made a detailed examination of the heights, slopes and coordinates, then labeled all the pieces from the top of the slide down. He took this information to Ramaker & Associates, who composed the engineered drawings for his park.
Equipment will always be slightly faded from UV exposure and chlorinated water. Some may be appear more used than others. Vitkun sent his slides to a refurbishing company that handles big waterparks such as Six Flags and Busch Gardens.
If refurbishing the piece by yourself, the surface should be sanded as closely as possible, one manufacturer says. Call the equipment maker to learn which gel coat was originally used to polish and finish the item. The gloss should be applied with a spray rather than a roller, for a uniform application. Also, apply in segmented sections, rather than going over the entire surface. Because joints flex and move during use, they will expand and contract. Blending the sections together can cause sharp edges to form as the slides move and crack.
By painting the backside, you can give a fresh look to a slide or ride. A new color will give it a clean look and help it merge better with your park’s theme.
Vitkun is already planning additions to his growing waterpark and says he would buy used equipment again, depending on the circumstance. “If I had the same level of comfort like this one was, with all the details, I probably would,” he says. But he’s excited about his current project. “It’s going to be our showpiece. People will want to stay here.”