COLUMBIA — Next summer at Douglass Park, a new type of water recreation will extend regular hours along with the swimming season.
The Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation is in the process of installing spraygrounds at the Douglass Family Aquatic Center, a project that staff members hope to complete before the onset of winter.
Because spraygrounds do not require lifeguard supervision, the aquatic center will stay open longer than the pool itself, opening a month before Memorial Day and closing a month after Labor Day.
“Spraygrounds are a trend in the aquatic industry,” said Mike Griggs, manager of park services for the Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. "They provide water recreation that otherwise wouldn’t be available."
In place of the 13-year-old raindrop pool and surrounding benches, the spraygrounds will feature six water jets. “That mushroom pool needed to be replaced anyway,” Griggs said. “It is a headache, and nobody ever used it.”
The gate between the main pool and raindrop pool will remain intact and serve as the sprayground's entrance during pool hours. After the pool closes, however, that gate will fasten, and parkgoers will access the sprayground through an exterior entrance.
Water at the sprayground will be treated with chlorine, just as it is at the swimming pool, and to save water, the pumps will not run continuously. The water flow will be triggered by an activation button, which will be turned off at 11 p.m. to correspond with park hours.
The sprayground at Douglass Park will be the third of its kind in the Columbia area. The other two are in Stephens Lake and Flat Branch parks and are popular with many families looking for water recreation.
Many parents opt for spraygrounds because they're safer than a pool.
Cindy Bishop of the Douglass neighborhood is not able to take her kids to the Douglass pool when their father isn’t around, and she described the sprayground at Flat Branch Park as a great alternative.
“My kids like the water, but they can’t always go swimming,” she said, “The more (spraygrounds) the merrier.”
While the spraygrounds at Flat Branch and Stephens Lake parks feature stream jet manifolds that harmonize with the natural surroundings, Griggs said, Douglass Park's sprayground will have arch jets, water tents and fan sprays.
“At Stephens, we wanted to blend in the water element to make it look semi-natural,” he said. “But the Douglass Park will have greater play value.”
The sprayground at Douglass has been designed for kid and family entertainment and is part of a larger effort to bring more community members to the aquatic center. Griggs said the number of parkgoers at Stephens Lake has nearly doubled since the department installed water jets.
Pool attendance has been low at Douglass Park in the past couple of years, roughly 3,000 people per season. Two years ago, when the department cut pool hours to reduce operating costs by approximately $13,000 per park, the staff brainstormed ways to regain normal attendance numbers despite financial cutbacks.
Amenities including new pumps, a new pool shell and a climbing wall were added to Douglass pool in 2008 to enrich the aquatic center and attract users.
Attendance rose to 5,177 that summer, and the department decided to use the remainder of a 2008 park improvement project fund, generated by the park sales tax, to install spraygrounds.
The sprayground is a $200,000 project; the remaining $125,000 came from the Community Development Block Grant fund.
Conscious of operating costs, Griggs analyzed upkeep expenses at Stephens Lake and Flat Branch parks, and he figured the sprayground will cost $5,000 per season to maintain.
The department planned to start construction early this fall, but the rainy weather delayed the start date. Contractors broke ground only a few weeks ago, which means they have a shorter time span to lodge pipes, build the fence and pour the concrete before colder weather arrives.
The Parks Department hopes to conduct preliminary testings when the ground thaws at the end of next winter and open the sprayground in early April.