June 20, 2021

MAKING A SPLASH

Committee develops detailed splash pad project, which is being reviewed by city

For those who’ve looked closely at the City of Newton’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for FY22-FY26, the next fiscal year could make quite the splash.

Although the CIP is not a strict guideline for what’s to come, the fact that a proposed splash pad construction project was even included as a line item has got to make the citizens who pitched the idea feel confident their vision is at least being considered.

The city estimated $275,000 in general funds could be allocated to the splash pad construction in FY23. Also listed is $147,000 of private funds.

In December 2020, members of the Splash Pad Committee pitched the idea to the Newton Park Board with the open-ended question: “If Newton had a splash pad…” Included were citizen testimonials of what a splash pad could do for the community, as well as mock images and potential estimates.

“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 in his testimonial. “I think this would just create another opportunity for young families to gather together.”

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.

Park board member Bryce Heitman, his wife and owner of Panglossian Design Keirstin Heitman and local dentist Jonathan Van Hemert helmed the initial presentation at the park board meeting before going before the city council. In addition to its water facilities, presenters said the pad would be a green space.

The splash pad would be located at the city-owned lot at 224 W. Third St. N., 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. Splash pads are often popular with families and 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.”

However, there is a real cost to building the splash pad. At a March city council meeting, Newton Community Services Director Brian Laube 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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