We’d like to thank Wallingford resident Greg Flood who wrote the following guest post:

Ask.com is doing a survey to select a project to fund for Seattle and funding operation of our wading pools is one possibility. It only takes a few seconds to vote at http://www.seattleasks.com/ before May 15. If successful, Seattle pools will be saved for this summer, but what about future years?

Seattle Parks and Recreation has reduced the operating hours of Seattle wading pools in recent years due to budget cuts. Parks has tried to encourage conversion of wading pools to water spray features reportedly in order to 1) save water and 2) save the cost of providing staff. A blanket conversion of all pools to spray parks, however, does not “pencil out”, especially for smaller wading pools like at Wallingford Playfield. Conversion does not save water and eliminating staff eliminates more than someone testing the water.

The Wallingford wading pool is relatively small at a little over 5000 gallons. When our wading pool is closed, just 25 families filling a pool in their backyard will consume more water than if the Wallingford wading pool remained open. Water is not saved by closing the pool.

The area around the Wallingford wading pool is tightly constrained and does not lend itself to having a spray park because there is not room for more than two or three spray stations. A spray park at Wallingford would likely not accommodate the same number of children as are currently served by the wading pool.

Spray park conversions are very expensive. The new park being installed at Highland Park in West Seattle, for example, started with a projected budget of $125,000 and is now projected to cost $635,000. As a comparison, we rebuilt the entire park and playground at Wallingford Playfield for a little over $800,000.

Spray parks consume water, too. A recirculated spray park system loses approximately 15% of the circulated volume of water through evaporation. A spray park at Wallingford, if the features are running 60% of the time, would consume over 5000 gallons of water in a normal day, as much as it takes to fill the wading pool. Amazingly, some of the conversions being done by Parks are “once-through” systems that consume 5 to 7 times as much water in a day as a recirculated system – enough to fill the Wallingford pool 5 to 7 times in a day!

During the public design process for Wallingford Playfield from 1999 to 2003, we considered conversion to a spray park. There was overwhelming support for retaining the wading pool. We added ADA access and upgraded the plumbing. Our pool is one of the deepest in the city and many families felt that a wading pool is more toddler-friendly because it provides a controlled introduction to deeper water. Given sufficient area, spray parks can be nice. In a confined area with lots of kids and limited stations, a spray park becomes dangerous for the little ones.

In the past, the staff person at Wallingford Playfield wading pool organized crafts and games in addition to duties monitoring the water quality. This is value-added Parks programming that would be eliminated with conversion to a spray park. The staff person was typically a college student hired via AmeriCorps, or equivalent, providing a student with a summer job and some much needed income to help pay for school. Each of these positions provides a lot of service for very little expenditure by the city, especially if subsidized via AmeriCorps.

A spray park is not equivalent to a wading pool and for Wallingford a spray park would likely consume more water than the wading pool. Eliminating the staff person eliminates many other benefits, including arts and crafts programming, games and activities, and much-needed student employment opportunities. The smaller wading pools in the city should be retained as wading pools and staffed to remain open full time in the summer. Our wading pools are a very popular and well-utilized city resource if they are open. The Department of Parks and Recreation, Seattle Public Utilities, and our Mayor should be encouraged to restore funding for full time opeation of our wading pools. The cost issues cited by Parks are a false economy.

  • KimberlyC

    Greg, thank you for this thorough anaylsis of the situation! I am sending it out to the GreenlakeMoms list and my children’s school lists. Please post again if there is more we can do!

  • Eric

    Two more reasons the city favors spray parks:
    - They are a benefit to older kids, while wading pools are really a toddler thing
    - They can be open longer hours and for more of the year

    Having said that, operation costs are why parks is favoring spray parks. They have money for facility upgrades (e.g. pro parks opportunity fund) but almost no money for operations. It seems like they can’t even keep the Greenlake Community Center basketball program going. I don’t really have a preference between wading pools and a spray park, but parks is being reasonable in playing the budget cards they have been dealt. BTW- in an ironic twist, the budget constraints here are imposed by McGinn’s own malformed pro parks levy, from before he was elected mayor. That’s a big part of why parks is such a mess now- the levy only funded acquisition and capitol improvements, not operations like other levys had.

  • Shanon

    Keep wading pools open!!!!

  • Nancy M

    Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Renovate something else somewhere else if the funding fits! And keep this wading pool working while the current Wallingford children are still kids, not some make-work project For The Future . . .
    And remember that there is No Running at spray parks for safety reasons; tell that to the older kids.
    Seems to me all us opinionators could figure out a way to keep a teeny tiny wading pool minimally staffed at the least for one 2-month long summer (July and August). Fundraise/spend extremely local.

  • Nancy M

    Lobby Seattle Parks and Rec for something specific: keep the Wallingford Playfield wading pool as it is and staff it daily for 8 hours for 2 months in July and August of 2012. If SPR needs additional resources for this proposal, then let’s take next steps.

  • Gregf

    When the park was redesigned in 1999 – 2003, we embraced a philosophy of retaining features unique to WP and steer clear of duplicating features that can be found in other nearby parks. WP is simply too small to be all things. Hence we have a meandering, free-form play structure reminiscent of the old and a large, unstructured grassy area to allow multiple uses, and a wading pool that trended to use by toddlers and younger users.

    The point of my article was intended to show that conversion to spray parks without looking at the specifics will lead to unintended consequences – in this case increased costs and increased water use. It does not make sense to spend money on something that is not an improvement just because you have the money. This woul be the ultimate beaurocratic folly.

    For the record, the ProParks committee pressed long and hard to set aside a portion of the levy for ongoing maintenance without success. Hence we have an Opportunity Fund and no money to operate any of the opportunities.

  • Eric

    Thanks Greg. Do you know who was responsible for striking operations money from the parks levy?

  • Gregf

    Also, it is my understanding that Parks is finding that the spray parks are not quite as “attendant – free” as projected with weekly and sometimes twice-weekly trips by the plumber to unplug drains. It also seems short-sighted to be installing once-through spray park systems after basing your decision on the water savings associated with installing a recirculated system.

  • Gregf

    True, Nancy. $10/hr x 8 hrs/day x 7 days/wk x 8 wks = $4480
    Save $640 if only open 6 days.

    Eric, I do not know who blocked inclusion of maintenance funds in the levy or the rationale given for doing so, just reports from members at the time of frustration about not being able to include the link that would make the levy more sustainable.

  • Nancy M

    Thanks Greg for your ongoing park stewardship!
    From the Seattle/Asks site today:

    >>YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

    Wading pools take popular vote but we’ll grant all three of Seattle’s requests!<<

    Let the sun shine . . .

  • Margaret

    Thanks, Nancy. More details to follow…and it’s all good news!

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