The spraygrounds are coming.
Across Wake County, park officials are at work to design and build spraygrounds - outdoor splash pads with buckets that pour and jets that spray water - for summers of splashing.
Once open, these new opportunities for cooling off will be a big change in a county where most towns don't have public pools. Only Raleigh, Morrisville, Knightdale and Wake Forest have pools open to the public. (The Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, a partnership of public and private groups, also is open to the public).
"It's something we desperately need," said Wake Forest parks director Ruben Wall, who is working on plans to open a sprayground there in 2017. "We have one pool that's about 70 years old. As the town grows, we're trying to find other resources for citizens."
These aren't the first public spraygrounds in the region. Raleigh and Durham have had spraygrounds at its seasonal pools for years. Raleigh also opened an indoor sprayground at its popular indoor Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center several years ago.
Last year, Fuquay-Varina joined in, opening a 6,000-square-foot splash pad in July at South Park on South Main Street. Huge crowds came for the opening and continued through the hot summer months. Fuquay's splash pad will reopen for the season on June 4 when town officials also hope to open a new restroom building next to the splash pad.
"We believe it will create better access and accommodate our guests better," the town's communication director Susan Weis tells me.
But Fuquay-Varina was just the beginning of this new interest in spraygrounds. Here's what's coming online:
- When it opens this spring, Jack Smith Park in Cary will be the first public sprayground for the town. The 50-acre tract at 9725 Penny Rd. will feature a variety of amenities including a dog park, playground, climbing rock and that sprayground, which will sit near the playground. The exact opening date is a moving target right now, but it's on track to be open this season. The sprayground will feature about half a dozen fixtures that spray, dump or mist water on park goers. "There still are things outstanding and things that have to be completed, but the plan is to open the park as soon as possible," said Susan Parker, Cary building engineer. Cary voters approved funding for the project in 2012 as part of the Community Investment Bonds referendum. (A private campaign is ongoing to raise money for a water play area at Cary's Kids Together Playground).
- In Wake Forest, Wall is eager to get a sprayground open at Taylor Street Park, which sits behind the Alston-Massenburg Center, at 416 N. Taylor St. The sprayground is being built thanks, in part, to a community development block grant from Wake County. The sprayground is in the design phase right now, but Wall is excited about the project, which likely will open in April 2017. "It's going to be our first one and I hope in the future I'm asking for more to build several more of these in the next five to 10 years," he said.
- In January, Apex's town council approved a concept plan for Pleasant Park that includes the town's first sprayground. The park will sit on Pleasant Plains Road near the intersection with Old U.S. Highway 1 and Interstate 540. Right now, town officials are working on creating a more detailed master plan and cost estimate. In the next month or so, park officials will present those more concrete plans to the town council to seek guidance, including whether the town will proceed on the project and how it will be paid for. The sprayground will be part of a 1 1/2 to two-acre amenity area that sits in the middle of the 92-acre property and will also include an all-inclusive play areas for kids, nature interpretive areas, shelters and more. "Based on what I’ve seen, there won’t be anything like it around here if it goes forward and is eventually constructed," wrote John Brown, the town's parks director, in an email.
- Tina Cheek, Knightdale's parks director, said it's probably going to be a couple of years, but plans are in the works to open a sprayground at its popular Knightdale Station Park. Right now, town officials are working out the budget. Cheek said the water play area would likely include both above ground and in-ground components and an adjacent changing room. The sprayground is proposed to sit across from the park's existing playground. "We've seen the popularity in other towns," said Cheek of the plans.
- In Orange County, the master plan for Chapel Hill's Southern Community Park includes a sprayground, but it's unlikely that it will be built anytime soon, according to Bill Webster, the town's parks planning and development manager.
- In Morrisville, future plans for improvements to its indoor aquatics center could include a sprayground, said Jerry Allen, the town's parks director.
Not every town is planning to build one. In Holly Springs, town officials declined to include a splash pad at Jones Park a few years ago. One also was proposed for the town's new North Main Athletic Complex though it's not part of the plans now, said Lori Puzak, the town's marketing and special events coordinator.
And not all of the spraygrounds in the region are publicly owned. Families looking to cool off can find respite at the sprayground at Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville, the water play area at Three Bears Acres in north Raleigh and Into the Mist at Durham's Museum of Life and Science, for instance.
But these latest plans for public parks all are good news for families who don't have access to a public pool or other spot to cool off. They also make a more affordable option for towns who are seeking new amenities for their residents. They don't require the expense of pool construction or the scramble for summer lifeguards.
"That's why they are so attractive and popular," Wall said. "You don't have to put a hole in the ground to dig a big pool. The staffing ... you don't have to hire summer staff. And, of course, you take away the fear of someone drowning. ... It's a fraction of the cost to build a pool. ... We're going to make it happen."
"Once we get one," he continued, "they're going to want more."