Airdrie City council is eager to see the Chinook Winds Spray Park open in some capacity this summer, although City staff indicated there are some challenges associated with making the facility accessible to the public.
While many of the City of Airdrie's outdoor amenities – including playgrounds, tennis courts and the Chinook Winds Skate Park – are back up and running, the splash park has remained closed due to COVID-19.
During a budget request for additional staff at a special council meeting June 29, Archie Lang, operations manager of the Parks and Public Works department, said staff recommended keeping the amenity closed this summer due to the difficulty of enforcing social distancing among young users.
"The inherent design of spray parks – they’re designed for children to congregate," he said. "Kids are supposed to jostle around and get wet. There are also all sorts of handrails, vertical surfaces and hundreds of touchpoints."
The spray park is highly popular on hot days, Lang said, and sometimes draws Calgary families, who drive to Airdrie to use the amenity. A reduction in the number of spray parks available elsewhere this summer could result in increased usage and line-ups.
"People just pack into it," he said.
According to Lang, staff limitations also present a challenge. Following an April 20 council meeting, his department trimmed nearly $1 million from its budget due to a forecasted decrease in service levels associated with pandemic-related closures. As a result, the Parks department has only 53 summer maintenance employees, including some who were redeployed from other City departments. This is about half the staff normally employed for the summer parks maintenance program, Lang added, and those redeployed members will eventually return to their original jobs at Genesis Place Recreation Centre as that facility reopens.
If the spray park were to open this summer, Lang said Parks and Public Works would need to hire additional staff members to help with sanitizing the facility's bathrooms and other tasks. The City would also enforce a 100-person capacity, he said, to comply with provincial regulations.
“The spray park itself is fenced and gated and we do have at least two attendants around the park at the time it’s operating,” he said. “We could have a gate in and out, and staff could monitor those gates.”
Despite the challenges, council seemed keen to see the park opened.
“There are some challenges if we decided to go with opening up the spray park, but I don’t think it’s not doable," said Coun. Kelly Hegg. "I would just hate to promise something, [create] expectations and then not be able to provide what people are looking for.”
Coun. Tina Petrow said she didn't see why the City could develop a viable plan to open its indoor pools and recreation facilities, but not an outdoor splash park.
“Genesis Place has just come up with this online platform to book your fitness classes and times to go work out," she said. "In my mind, I don’t see why we couldn’t use that same platform to book times at a spray park.”
Coun. Darrell Belyk suggested a 50-person capacity might be better than 100.
Council ultimately gave City staff the green light to open the amenity in some capacity this summer. In a unanimous vote, it endorsed reintroducing service levels associated with the spray park at a cost of $64,000.
The spray park could possibly open as early as mid-July, Lang said. However, a reopening date is contingent on the completion of seasonal repairs, Alberta Health Services' approval, staff availability and weather.
"We know that everyone wants to get out and enjoy City facilities, especially during warmer weather," Lang said. "Although the Chinook Winds Spray Park could open based on the Province’s recently amended Phase Two relaunch plan, we do not have an opening date for the spray park at this time."
Calgary, Lethbridge and Okotoks, meanwhile, have begun to reopen their splash parks or have announced plans to do so. The City of Calgary announced June 23 that four of its larger spray parks and wading pools would reopen in July.