December 07, 2023

Splash pad could be “a great asset” to Newton parks system

New recreational opportunity is evident, but the costs still have to be considered

Using information staff gathered from two different design firms with experience in speciality recreational amenities like splash pads, the city’s community services director feels it could be “a great asset” to Newton’s parks system.

Newton Community Services Director Brian Laube on Monday, March 1 provided the city council with additional information about the proposed splash pad project, most notably the costs of operation, staff upkeep estimates and water usage.

More details about the project suggest a significant amount of water would be used to operate the recreational facility and a minimum of $15,000-$20,000 will need to be added to the parks budget for splash pad maintenance every year.

Two different types of splash pads were considered when trying to pin down the costs: a flow-through system and a recirculating system.

When compared to its recirculating counterpart, the flow-through system has loser initial costs. Based on the Splash Pad Committee’s estimates, a flow-through facility could cost $250,000-$300,000. However, no water is reused.

“Any water that comes out of the city water main goes through the spray features, down the drain and out,” Laube said.

For more upfront costs, a recirculation system splash pad will reuse and treat the water. The committee estimates this type of splash pad would cost $385,000-$435,000.

Using information staff gathered from two different design firms that specialize in these types of recreational amenities, Laube feels the splash pad could be “a great asset” to the city’s parks system and possibly not a detriment to maintain.

Water usage and costs for a flow-through system

Typically, a lot of splash pads in Iowa are open from Memorial Day and Labor Day. So that would equal to about 98 days of operation. Many of those cities are using 50,000 gallons of water a day on a flow-through system, Laube said.

There are ways for the city to reduce the amount of water a splash pad could use. Many systems have timers installed. When not in operation, the facility would cycle itself off after a few minutes.

“(And) it’s going to run a good period of the day in warmer weather,” Laube said.

Both firms have argued whether it is allowable to discharge the water wasted in a flow-through system into a storm sewer line and then into a crew. The water is seemingly treated and has touched other people, which is prompting debate.

If it was instead discharged into the sanitary sewer rather than the storm sewer, Laube said it would add another $25,000 in annual expenses for the sewer rate.

With the flow-through system, there are no chemical costs. This type of splash pad would not be treated like a pool. Laube estimated there would also be lower annual electrical, equipment and upkeep costs.

Ignoring any potential sanitary sewer treatment costs, the flow-through system would require $21,800 per year from the city. Laube also noted there is no source of revenue coming from the splash pad.

Water usage and costs for a recirculation system

The cost city staff found for a recirculating system exceeded the committee’s initial estimates. Laube said it would put the city back $500,000. The community services director described the facility as a smaller version of the pool.

“It’s treated water, chemicals added to it, it recirculates it (and) uses a lot less water,” Laube said.

Keeping the same amount of usage in mind, it would cost the city $4,900 in annual water costs, which Laube said is “substantially lower” than the flow-through system.

If the water had to be discharged into the sanitary sewer, the city estimates $6,200 a year in sewer fees. Again, a much lower cost than the flow-through.

However, Laube said if the water does flow into the sanitary sewer, the city would be “contributing to the I&I (Inflow & Infiltration) problem.” The city’s wastewater staff “are not real fond” of that particular detail.

Chemical costs would be $1,500 per year and a $150 permit from the state.

One of the biggest issues Laube noted with the recirculation system is staff having to treat the splash pad like a miniature pool. Like Maytag Pool, an employee would have to test the water.

“And we could have people up there 6 or 7 o’clock at night on a Saturday night or Sunday night doing water tests if it were still open,” Laube said. “…That is something that could be done by seasonal people, (like) pool staff.”

Equipment repairs, water testing, facility upkeep, winterization and extra labor is estimated to cost the city an extra $9,500 for a recirculation system, he added.

And since water is used so much less, Laube said the total estimated operating costs would be $19,900. Ignoring any sanitary sewer charges, Laube reasoned both systems’ costs are about the same.

Finding the leaks in the splash pad

When it comes to replacing the systems, Laube said the flow-through system “is a lot less complicated” so there are less parts to replace in the future, unlike the recirculating system. Again, he compared it to owning a “mini swimming pool.”

Laube said. “You’ve got pumps, valves, control systems. You see the expenses we have at the pool — a 25-year-old pool — (so) something like this could probably be … replacing parts by, I’m going to guess, within 10-15 years.”

The proposed location for the splash pad is in a vacant, city-owned lot at 224 W. Third St. N., which is immediately west of Bank Iowa. Laube said one of the firms strongly recommended the location be fenced in.

“The current lot is bordered on two sides by a city street and two other sides by a parking lot, so (there’s) concern of safety for children playing there,” Laube said. “Fencing is a definite consideration that we’re looking at.”

There have also been talks about turning the splash pad into a multi-season attraction, possibly even doubling as an ice skating rink. Firms have told city staff that specific option would be “highly unusual.”

Apart from the splash pad, some seating and a shade structure, the lot may be too small for much else. The parks department may be required to put in public restrooms if a recirculating system is installed, which would take up more space.

“So if you look at the recirculating area not only would it have a vault or a small building for the pumps and the control, but there would also be a secondary building … for a restroom,” Laube said.

City staff will be meeting with the Splash Pad Committee soon to go over some of these details, Laube added. As of now, the parks staff do not have a recommendation on which type of system they wish to own and operate.

“We’re going to come together and talk about it,” he said.

Council and mayor weigh in on splash pad thus far

The committee leading the project pitched its idea to the park board late last year. Although some members were skeptical, they all indicated to be in favor of the project and recommended the city council support it, too.

In order to secure the desired space for the facility, the Splash Pad Committee is likely to request a resolution of support from the Newton City Council. Laube said this resolution could be ready by the March 15 council meeting.

No money would be pledged to the project and the council’s support does not necessarily mean it is set in stone, either. It could, however, allow the committee to move forward with the project and improve marketing efforts.

If the current site is not to be desired for this project, staff would like to give consideration to another location.

Newton Mayor Mike Hansen asked if there were requirements of the city to install an emergency shelter for the splash pad lot. Laube could not answer that question but said he would research the matter.

“If it’s going to be a city-owned and -operated facility, that’s what I’m getting at here,” Hansen said.

Councilperson Evelyn George toured the downtown are of Marshalltown, which she said has a park-like area next to a parking lot that floods a lot.

“And they store the water underground for periods of time to water the greenery,” George said. “…They were able to get a DNR grant to help with that.”

Laube said staff have discussed similar, “outside-the-box” ideas with one of the design firms, such as having the former manufacturing gas plant site — two blocks down — as a place for the water to collect for treatment.

Councilperson Mark Hallam drew attention to the fencing, lamenting that he’d hate to see a chain link fence surrounding the space. Perhaps all that is needed are some concrete barriers. George said some natural barriers like hedges could work, too

Councilperson Randy Ervin suggested although a resolution of support has no funds pledged to the project, “sooner or later it will cost the city money.” Some costs, he added, are “significant” going forward.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.