Norwich’s Opti-mist Splash Zone is a thing of functional beauty.
Measuring roughly 85 by 60 feet, it has 11 distinct features including jets, ‘liquid mushrooms’, a fire hydrant, quartet of dumping buckets and water guns which together on a hot day, attract an enthusiastic crowd.
“It’s nothing to see 40, 50 or 60 people here,” said Optimist Club of Norwich and District Splash Pad Chairman Clayton Tokarz.
The concept of a splash pad has been floated in Tillsonburg. There are many permutations of what essentially is an unsupervised, free, family-based water feature designed to be safe for most ages. But for the sake of furthering the discussion, the two-year, $200,000 experience of the Norwich Optimists in taking their concept to reality may be instructive.
The crucial first drop of an idea came via an Optimist zone meeting in Burford, where breakfast discussion centred around a splash pad in that community. Interested, Tokarz asked for a tour, which immediately impressed him.
“I said ‘that’s what I wanted to do.’”
Tokarz’ belief a similar project in Norwich would dovetail nicely with the Optimist ‘friends of youth,’ mantra was shared amongst club members and a ten-member committee ultimately began pursuing prosecution of their own project.
The community had an ideal location at Harold Bishop Park, formerly a ball diamond whose outfield already featured a diverse range of playground equipment, washrooms and pavilion with picnic tables: mutually-supportive developments.
“We’re sitting about at home plate,” said Tokarz, gazing toward the completed splash pad. “It was a perfect spot to do it right here.”
As mentioned, the pad features 11 unique features arranged for older kids on one side, younger on the other and generic ages in the middle. A small adjacent building encloses a ‘header’ (pushing the water) with 11 outlets, one per feature and a computer controlling overall operation. The splash pad is programmed to be operational from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turned ‘on’ via a feature on the fire hydrant.
“That’s part of the fun, to see who can run back and turn it on first,” said Tokarz.
Hitting the fire hydrant results in four distinct one-minute sequences through the broader splash pad, followed by shutdown until a subsequent push on the hydrant.
“So if somebody wants to use the park and hits the fire hydrant, it’s not running all day,” Tokarz explained. “It runs for four minutes.”
Target age for the splash pad is babies up to teenagers.
“The same as the playground,” said Tokarz. “Realistically when you’re 16, you’re not playing on a playground, but it’s for everyone under that.”
The initial budget was $175,000, ultimately raised to just below $200,000 due to additional features including armour stones and shade shelters. Unofficially, Tokarz says the water feature ‘workings’ were around $85,000 with the balance made up of functional requirements and additions including benches, sidewalks, trashcans, the control building and landscaping.
Funding was comprised of an up-to-$50,000 commitment from The Township of Norwich, a $75,000 Trillium grant and $75,000 from the club.
“Fundraising through events and sponsorship,” said Tokarz.
Lettered evidence of the latter is on the benches ($5,000), armour stones ($2,500) and walkway stones of three sizes ($1,000, $500 and $250).
“We had five levels of sponsorship,” said Tokarz, “either in cash or in kind.”
Sponsorship in kind isn’t without its complications, he admitted, given the reality of businesses having to work around ‘paying’ jobs.
“You have to be able to work around their schedules. It’s frustrating at times, but you do understand it.”
As part of the overall agreement, the township assumed operational costs, along with ownership.
“It’s their property, they maintain it,” said Tokarz.
There is consideration being given to an additional, smaller and less costly splash pad being installed in Otterville in conjunction with the pool there says Tokarz, a potential eventuality which in some ways, may mirror Tillsonburg’s situation.
A pool, and a water park are unique features, in part because one requires supervision and the other essentially doesn’t. They aren’t mutually exclusive however believes Tokarz, given parents who drop older children off at the pool, might welcome an option for younger siblings. He can see a splash pad taking a measure of business away from a pool or water park initially, but believes things will level out when the novelty wears off.
“This (a splash pad) also appeals to a certain group who can’t use a water park or pool because they are too young.”
In any event, Norwich’s Opti-mist Splash Zone has been both a visually and functionally-positive addition to the community, which certainly is being used, says Tokarz.
“You’ll see cars lined up all the way around the park. You’d think there was a ball game going on.”