Build it. Add water. They will come.
Because of its popularity, a temporary splash pad at Northeastern Park in downtown Lexington will remain open through Labor Day weekend, organizers announced this week. SplashJAM, behind Thoroughbred Park, had been scheduled to close Wednesday the first day of classes for Fayette County schools. Instead, it will close Sept. 5.
“We have been overwhelmed by the number of families using SplashJAM, and we hope to find funds for a permanent spray ground, perhaps as part of the Town Branch Commons,” said Jeff Fugate, president of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, one of several groups behind the spray ground at 140 Eastern Avenue. Town Branch Commons is a proposed linear downtown trail and park. The proposed path goes down Midland Avenue near Eastern Avenue.
Born of a survey conducted by Gehl of San Francisco about public spaces and how they are used in Lexington, the temporary splash pad is a pilot project that addresses the lack of public pools and water features on the city’s east side. The spray ground also is a way to bring together people from various economic backgrounds. Grants from Gehl and private fundraising through the Blue Grass Community Foundation paid for the $160,000 splash pad.
John Bela, a director of Gehl in San Francisco, helped design the water feature. Bela said Thursday that officials decided to put the spray ground at Northeastern Park because people were using the Thoroughbred Park fountain as a wading pool. Because of Midland Avenue, it’s impossible for people on the city’s east end to walk easily to the Woodland Park pool, Bela said.
Northeastern was an underused park that was easy for people on the east and north sides to get to, said Ethan Howard, a project manager for the Downtown Development Authority.
The response from kids, adults and the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive, Howard said.
“We have noticed in the morning, we have more people coming from all over the county,” Howard said. “In the afternoon and evenings, it’s more people from the neighborhood.”
Howard said neighbors of the splash pad sometimes bring bottled water and Popsicles for the kids.
The playground equipment at Northeastern that had been largely unused by neighborhood kids has become as popular as the spray ground, Howard said.
“Parents set up the chairs between the splash pad and the playground,” Howard said. Parents of small children love it.
“Because there is no standing water, managing toddlers and small kids is much, much easier,” Howard said.
There have been some hiccups. The spray ground was to open July Fourth weekend. The opening date had to be pushed back to July 14 because construction took longer than expected. The 28 spray jets are set to turn on via a timer. Sometimes the clock and the timer have had to be reset, Howard said. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.
Howard said once school starts, those hours might change.
Lisa Adkins, president of Blue Grass Community Foundation, said the group is pursuing grants and other funding to make the splash pad permanent. In addition to the foundation and the development authority, partners in the project include the Gehl Institute and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“Because the need is so clear for this type of water feature near the east end, the Blue Grass Community Foundation is working diligently to secure funding for a permanent spray ground,” Adkins said.