October 18, 2021

SPLISH SPLASH: Committee develops preliminary plans for splash pad

Recreational amenity could attract and retain young families, connect main street district with Legacy Plaza

“If Newton had a splash pad…”

That is how the three members of the Splash Pad Committee kicked off their presentation for the Newton Park Board. Their high-concept idea of a centrally located splash pad could benefit the city by attracting young families and serving as a connector between Legacy Plaza and the Main Street District.

Park board member Bryce Heitman, his wife and owner of Panglossian Design Keirstin Heitman and local dentist Jonathan Van Hemert helmed the presentation during last month’s park board meeting. It included mock images of the splash pad located in the city-owned lot at 224 W. Third St. N., just west of Bank Iowa.

Splash pads appear in a number of Iowa communities, such as Clarksville, Clear Lake, Fort Dodge, Grinnell, McGregor, Spirit Lake and Walnut. Typically, splash pads have built-in water features and fountains that come out of the ground, making them ideal attractions for families with young children.

Presenters said splash pads are often established in central locations within cities and are always open to the public at no cost. Newton would be the same.

“This isn’t something that’s behind lock and key,” Van Hemert said. “People can come and go at their leisure. They’re not paying an admittance fee. It’s basically something that the city or, in some cases, townships will offer that people can just really take advantage of without any real barriers to access.”

Included in the presentation was a video of citizen feedback regarding the splash pad. Many in the video said it could create more opportunities for young families to gather together and give them another reason to come to Newton. Others said it would bolster local businesses and keep families in town for entertainment.

“We met a lot of our friends that are still friends today at the local playgrounds just spending time with other families with young kids,” Chad Klein, of Eye Care Center of Newton, said. “I think this would just create another opportunity for young families to gather together.”

Amenities like this also give young families another reason to move to Newton, Klein added. Presenters suggested the park board view the project as not just a splash pad, but as a green space, too. Concept art shows plenty of grassy areas with benches and a pathway leading to and from Legacy Plaza and downtown.

The splash pad, presenters said, could bridge the gap between these two, high traffic districts. Bryce Heitman described the space as a “natural funnel between Main Street and Legacy Plaza,” adding that these two places are important for Newton and form organic gathering points.

Installing a splash pad funnels people back and forth to these areas, presenters said. It also adds “walkability” to the community, which they defined in the presentation as “an environment friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying or spending time in an area.”

The Splash Pad Committee argued parks and other community spaces that are buzzing with people and activity is also more attractive to walk through than parking lots and suburban apartment complexes. They also said both DMACC and Newton Main Street support the concept for a splash pad.

Bryce Heitman spoke with Spirit Lake City Administrator Gregg Owens about his city’s splash pad, receiving favorable feedback in return. The Spirit Lake splash pad brings people as far as 60 miles away and is a “huge draw” for the community, Owens said. To him, the inclusion of a splash pad is a “no brainer.”

Installing a splash pad, however, would not be a cheap undertaking.

Presenters provided two ways the city could structure its costs. Without a water recirculation system, the initial estimate would be between $250,000 and $300,000. With a water recirculation system, that price tag could increase from $385,000 to $435,000. Yearly maintenance for either option is about $4,000.

Still, the committee wants to go before the city council in January to gain its approval and reserve the lot for a splash pad. Afterward, the group plan to secure financing and grants with the assistance of Newton Main Street and possibly Friends of Newton Parks.

Even though most park board members agreed a splash pad is a good idea, they still had concerns about the amenity. Park board member Adam Vandall said city staff should be prepared for Maytag Pool — which charges for admission — to be financially impacted by addition of a splash pad that is free to the public.

Other park board members and Newton Main Street Executive Director Erin Yeager said a splash pad serves different needs and different people than a pool.

However, Vandall does like the location of the proposed splash pad.

Park board member Melanie Humphrey was less enthused about the location, arguing that not everything needs to be downtown. Instead, Humphrey said amenities should be spread around town in other parks. Bryce Heitman suggested that could interfere with financing and grants options.

Since the splash pad would likely not see as much use in the winter — if any —Levi Michener, chair of the park board, asked if an ice rink could be located in the lot. Community Services Director Brian Laube said his staff have had some discussions about relocating Maytag Park’s or Sunset Park’s ice rink next winter.

Bryce Heitman said he will check the possibility of an ice rink conversion at the splash pad, which he felt there was enough space for in an adjacent area. He will also work alongside Newton Main Street to come up with ideas for seasonal use of the park.

Although the park board didn’t formally vote on the proposal, general consensus was to wait until more information is shared if the project — which is still in its preliminary stage — was to continue forward. Michener likes the idea, adding he “didn’t need a whole lot of convincing.”

“I was always eager to see what that property behind Bank Iowa would bring,” he said. “Obviously, everyone knows that it’s not a direct pathway, but it’s pretty close to getting over to Legacy Plaza … I could definitely see a splash pad there. I think it’s a good idea and it would definitely bring another space to downtown.”

Park board member Amanda Price agreed with Michener, noting that the idea for a splash pad had always been discussed and green lit by the board, but the biggest hurdle was finding the right location. The empty lot had been used in local events in the past, but a splash pad, she said, would be a “nice fit.”

“All you gotta do is get the money — that’s all,” Price said with a laugh.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com