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A different approach to spray parks possible

Our spray parks are closed for nearly 300 days out of every year. What a waste.

Avery Praznik runs through the spray at the Westbridge Spray Park on Silverbirch Drive on a scorching hot afternoon a couple of years ago.

TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Avery Praznik runs through the spray at the Westbridge Spray Park on Silverbirch Drive on a scorching hot afternoon a couple of years ago.

At some point in the future, presuming that the weather continues to warm up, the city will welcome its fourth spray park this summer in Rideau Park.

It took most of last construction season to actually build the new spray park, but the water wasn't turned on before the weather turned chill and the parks all closed in the fall.

Designed to fit in

I didn't know this until I read the request for proposals, but the Rideau Park spray park was designed be "water tower themed". That's neat! And excellent planning on the part of the city.

After I read that, I took a walk through the park myself, and sure enough, there is a big bucket atop a pole in the park — looks like it'll slowly fill with water and then dump it on folks below — which sort of is a visual match to the water tower.

It's a fun touch, and one that I appreciate, even through I didn't get it at first glance. Kudos to whoever came up with that grace note.

Early water park

This is also neat — from a century ago, in May 1914, which is the earliest proposed water feature I can find in Brandon. A lagoon, or fake lake, in Brandon's Keystone Centre would have been interesting.

Later in the spring workers were apparently already digging on it, but I'll bet they were taken off that project when the First World War erupted.

At any rate, there was a duck pond up and running on the future Keystone Centre grounds by the late 1930s. There are a couple of pictures on the SJ. McKee Archives site, here and here.

Including some other improvements to the park, including swings and playground, plus a berm to make the toboggan hill safer in the winter, the bill for turning Rideau Park into a Recreation "Hub" was about $700,000.

According to a copy of the request for proposals, the budget for the spray park component was $440,000.

Spray parks in Brandon are open for about two months a year. Assuming that it has a useful life of, say, 20 years, and assuming that it requires zero maintenance, and assuming that the city has a surplus of water (they use fresh drinking water and send it straight down the drain, no chemicals) and charges itself zero dollars for any water use, that $440,000 works out to be about $367 per day, every single day that the spray park is open.

The Rideau Park spray park is Brandon's fourth, and the Recreation Master Plan calls for a total of six.

Assuming they all cost about the same, Brandon taxpayers are currently paying an estimated $1,467 a day in amortized construction costs, an amount that will rise to $2,200 a day when all six are open.

That's $2,200 a day — every single day of the summer — just for Brandon kids to splash around in glorified sprinklers.

Wow.

It wouldn't be so bad, maybe, if thousands of people thronged these ultra-popular spray parks every single day of the summer.

But the fact is that there are plenty of cool, rainy summer days where the spray parks are barely used.

And even when it's hot as blazes, if you're not a between six and eight years old, or briefly accompanying a small child, get ready to get the stink-eye for attempting to cool off.

Now, the reason this occurred to me was because of a recent visit to a different sort of water park when I was in Peru earlier this year.

 

 

The Magic Water Circuit is a series of 13 fountains located in Lima's Parque de la Reserva. It was (controversially) opened in 2007 — part of a series of works done by the mayor of the day with a reported budget of around $15 million Canadian.

I can't find any information about how much money was spent on the fountains themselves, but Wikipedia says the money was quickly recouped — some two million people visited within the first seven months. Entrance fees are less than $1.50 and people of all ages continue to flock to it every evening.

Although it's fun to watch the fountains — the one above shoots 80 metres into the air, and there are a series of synchronized lights as the water jets go through a bunch of different configurations — the park goes way beyond just decorative fountains.

Some of the fountains play in time to various musical cues.

One of them uses the spray as a screen on which to display a laser light show. Here's a picture of what it looks like:

 

There's also a video I put on YouTube, if you're interested you can watch it for a couple of minutes here.

But although there were huge crowds for the laser light show, I think the best part of the water park were the interactive fountains — two in particular.

One was a cute tunnel made by spouting water from one side of a pathway up and over to land on the other side. It was super popular with couples (us included) who posed for pictures inside the tunnel. But kids thrilled to run through it, and teenagers loved putting their hands into the spouts to redirect the water at their friends.

It was possible to walk through and not get too wet — just a little from the moisture in the air — but it was a lot more fun to try to get as close as possible and actually interact with the water.

Here's what it looks like from inside — pardon the poor quality of the front-facing iPhone camera in low light, but it's my girlfriend Amy and I:

But for my money, the top water feature was a water "maze" that beckoned you in and then soaked you from below.

Designed as a series of concentric circles with hundreds of small water jets underneath, the unstated goal of the fountain was to have you run through it to the very centre, and then try to make your way back out.

The jets had at least three settings — full on, full off, and a low medium setting that could be hopped over. Here's a pic of what it looked like:

It looked easy — surely there had to be a pattern, right? But it wasn't. The pattern is fiendishly designed to lure you in and then soak you in the crotch as you hop over.

I was in jeans. I got wet. It was awesome. Here's a video taken by someone else that really shows how playful the fountain can be:

Frankly, it was a blast. But the part that stuck with me was how universally people seemed to be enjoying all these fountains.

It wasn't a water park for kids. It wasn't a water park for adults with their kids. It wasn't designed for seniors or teenagers or any age group in particular.

It was designed for EVERYONE.

And that's where, I think, Brandon's love affair with spray parks is lacking. They may have been conceived with no official age barrier. But visit one (during any of the 60 days they're open, not the 300 days they're closed every year) and you'll see a very constrained demographic.

Spray parks are great until your kids turn 12 — at most — and then they're basically off-limits to everyone else.

We've spent close to $2 million on spray parks so far, and we're planning to spend nearly $1 million more.

Sure, that's not even close to Lima's $15 million budget, but it's nothing to shake a stick at either. (Of course, it makes sense for a South American city to invest more in outdoor water features, since they're usable all year long.)

Having now seen — and experienced — what's possible for spray parks, I just wish we were getting better bang for our buck.

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