Wading cautiously into splash pad discussion

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Janet McCurdy is wading cautiously into any discussion on a potential splash pad in Tillsonburg.

“As an aquatics person, I think they are great,” she said recently. “Affordable family fun.”

But in her position as Tillsonburg’s Recreational Program Manager, McCurdy is strictly neutral. Her bottom line reflects The Town of Tillsonburg’s – there are no funds dedicated toward a splash pad in the 2013 budget, nor is one’s creation prioritized in the community’s master recreational plan, the department’s guiding document.

“It was not identified in our short-term goals.”

As a town employee, McCurdy takes direction from her director, and ultimately, council and will happily adapt to changing circumstances. But the current focus is on Tillsonburg’s Water Park, a facility that has maintained cutting-edge viability since opening in 1995.

“We have the crème de la crème here,” said McCurdy proudly. “It’s unique because we took a pool and put a splash park and a water slide in it.”

“That’s 186 feet of fun,” added Recreation Program Coordinator Susie Wray.

Comparing the water park to a splash pad is ‘apples and oranges,’ says McCurdy.

Splash pads are typically un-staffed facilities designed for children aged five and under, “and non-swimmers,” said Wray.

They require both a capital and operating budget, the latter for items including maintenance, clean-up and water, which unlike the ‘recycle, re-filter and reuse’ approach of Tillsonburg’s Water Park, is not reclaimed. Splash pads undeniably can fill a recreational niche.

“It’s an affordable way for kids to cool off in the water and have some fun,” said McCurdy.

Tillsonburg’s water park is a safe, lifeguard-supervised facility whose ‘anchor’ feature is its 186-foot water slide. It also offers a shallow entry ‘beach’ for younger children, a number of water features in the shallow end and inflatables, popular fixtures in the deeper, solar-heated water.

Operated essentially on a break-even level, staffing is adjusted appropriately to bather numbers. Attendance is weather-dependent, but the park’s history and reputation has made it a destination and economic driver, insulating factors against even a comparatively chilly and wet summer like 2013.

“It has become a tourist attraction,” said McCurdy.

“People seemed to have decided even if it’s going to rain, we’re going to do something,” added Wray. “And we’re open, unless it’s storming.”

Admission rates: $24 for a family of five, $6.75 for an adult, $3.75 for kids 6-14, $2.50 for 2-5, under two free or 55-plus $4.50, compare very favourably to similar facilities, and along with the fact picnic lunches can be eaten inside the park, in the era of $1.30 a litre gas, provide an argument for staying within the community. The park also offers a grandparents’ special on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, where grandparents get in free with a grandchild.

“That’s quite a popular feature,” said Wray.

The argument could be forwarded that a splash pad would take away from water park attendance, and by logical extension, revenue.

“On some level,” McCurdy surmised. “But I think the parent who wants the pool experience, the day-long experience, will still come to the water park.”

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