WORTHINGTON — With a snow-covered landscape and a high temperature of 12 below zero, it takes vision and imagination to conjure the world of summer, where children frolic and adults lounge leisurely on green grass or sun-dappled park benches.
But vision is exactly what’s on display from the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) board, as the WRHCF approved a $50,000 matching grant in mid-December for a splash pad in the city at the behest of the Worthington Noon Kiwanis Club.
“The Noon Kiwanis Club has a mission of supporting youth in the community, and they’re spearheading a fundraising drive for a splash pad,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF executive director.
“We’re excited about this because it will impact a broad range of kids, from the very young to young adults, and will bring a new amenity to Worthington that promotes physical activity and outdoor involvement.”
Spirit Lake, Iowa, recently added a splash pad to their community offerings, and work on one is underway in Jackson. Noon Kiwanis Club members were inspired to pursue a similar project here after learning more about the popularity of the splash pads in those cities. Worthington’s Texas turkey rival, Cuero, also installed a splash pad recently and has seen terrific attendance increases at the site since its introduction.
For the uninitiated, splash pads are essentially water-filled playgrounds in which sprinkling systems shoot water into a play area grounded with a concrete floor. Because the splash pad Worthington advocates hope to see here will be a zero-depth concept with a slip-free, wheelchair-accessible surface, the joys of squirting water fountains, gentle “rainfall” and other forms of wet and gleeful water play would be available to everyone.
One key proponent of a local splash pad is Chad Cummings. Cummings is a Noon Kiwanis Club board member who also sits on the Worthington City Council and leads the annual Deep Freeze Dip fundraiser that has supported various community causes since 2010.
“A splash pad had been discussed by Noon Kiwanis for a couple of years,” explained Cummings, “and we were looking for a project that could benefit from dollars raised in the Deep Freeze Dip.
“Because the Kiwanis motto is ‘serving the children of the world,’ and the health care foundation functions for the betterment of citizens’ health in our community, a splash pad seems ideal.”
Steve Robinson, Worthington’s city administrator, agrees a splash pad could be a community asset.
“Splash pads are seen as a quality of life amenity to city residents,” said Robinson. “The city council is exploring various improvements to address enhancements that will, among other things, add to our existing recreation opportunities.”
Although splash pads (which cost anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 and average 3,000 square feet in size) require between 35,000 and 50,000 gallons of water for daily operations during the May- to September timeframe such a feature might operate in southern Minnesota, Robinson assures the water requirement wouldn’t be an obstacle.
“The city council hasn’t taken any formal action on construction of a splash pad yet, though there have been several discussions with the council’s Economic Development and Community Growth sub-committees, but no recommendations have been brought to the full council as of yet,” detailed Robinson.
“If the city were to move forward with a splash pad, it would have a recirculating system, which would greatly reduce the amount of daily water usage,” Robinson continued. “Obviously there would still be water loss, from evaporation and water being carried off by users, but that loss is considered negligible.”
A recirculating system, Robinson pointed out, would demand water treatment and certified operators who could monitor the water’s condition.
“This will involve an increase in the capital and operational costs,” Robinson admitted. “However, it’s critical that we take measures to include water conservation.”
Such considerations are necessary, but Cummings and Rotert are certain of the overall benefits a splash pad would bring to Worthington.
“A splash pad can be placed in a city park so it would be free to anyone,” said Cummings. “And a zero-depth feature eliminates fear of drowning while providing peace of mind to parents who can sit on a nearby bench to relax, talk and have a little adult time.”
Added Rotert, “For those who maybe don’t like to swim, a splash pad lets you have fun in the water and offers something a little different than what we currently have here.”
As the parent of an autistic child, Cummings is also upbeat about the sensory pleasures of a splash pad.
“Wheelchairs can go through splash pads, and anyone with special needs — whether that’s autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome — can enjoy a splash pad,” endorsed Cummings. “With no steps and a flat surface, the enjoyment is free, open and equal because the splashes can come in different forms.
“For people who function by sensory participation, this is so exhilarating because they get the same experience everyone else gets — and that’s not just true for kids, but also for adults,” he continued.
“Maybe a parent doesn’t swim, so the beach or pool doesn’t happen for them with a child, but here’s something they can still do and have fun with together.”
Of course a matching grant is contingent on additional funds being contributed to gain the maximum available amount, and the intent is for pledges received via the upcoming Deep Freeze Dip (scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, as part of Worthington’s Winterfest events) to be donated to the cause.
“All those dollars — from the Deep Freeze Dip and the WRHCF grant — will be presented to the city of Worthington,” said Cummings.
“We want to demonstrate that, with public support and private contributions, we want a splash pad this bad and here’s over $100,000 to get it going,” said Cummings. “We want to give this extra incentive to the city to get this done.”
“We’re looking forward to seeing the city and the Noon Kiwanis Club bring this project to fruition in the coming year,” said Rotert. “We hope the amount of money being contributed from private donations may help a splash pad progress quicker.”
And while summer’s pleasures may currently be buried beneath piles of snow, the hope of a splash pad drives Cummings and his fellow Noon Kiwanis Club members.
“It just makes you feel cheery to think of seeing kids giggling in the water fountains or giving their smiling parents a soaking wet hug,” said Cummings.
“As a city council member, I keep hearing that people need and want more ‘things’ here, and this is one of the fun ‘things’ that could be a viable and very beneficial project for Worthington.”
To participate as a jumper in the Deep Freeze Dip on Jan. 21, obtain a pledge card at RadioWorks, 28779 Nobles County 35 (2.5 miles west of Worthington). Detailed information about the requirements for Deep Freeze Dip participation can be viewed at rockitfm.com. To make a donation to the Worthington splash pad project, send a check made payable to the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation in care of RadioWorks, 28779 Nobles County 35, Worthington 56187.