If you like running through water, today’s summer-like temperatures may not bother you too much.
The City of Lawton has opened its splash pad in Elmer Thomas Park for the summer, just in time for the 90-plus degree temperatures that are expected to last through next week. While the splash pad and other aquatic facilities operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department typically open Memorial Day Weekend, city officials decided this year to open the popular spraying water features May 1 and keep them open though September.
Parks and Recreation Director Christine James said the decision was possible because the city also has dropped the attendants who have monitored the splash pad in previous years.
“It’s play at your own risk, and that is pretty typical,” James said of a facility that offers an array of water features activated by visitors themselves, pushing a button to keep the water spraying or splashing. “People need to police themselves and watch over their own kiddos.”
The other important feature of the Elmer Thomas facility is that it is a flow-through system, meaning fresh water from Lawton’s water system is provided every time someone turns on the water. Because the water is not recycled, that means there are no chemicals to keep in balance and the drainage system carries “used” water.
James said that is different for the Clement Washington Splash Pad in south Lawton, which has a circulating system (meaning, the same water is cycled through the facility) so it must have an attendant to ensure water quality. James said plans are to convert that park to a flow-through system as well, meaning it, too, could operate more hours.
The splash pad will be open daily from noon to 8 p.m., meaning the water will be turned off outside those hours. Rules for use will be posted on the gate, and those who use the water features are reminded there is a button on the pole as you walk into the pad that must be pressed every four minutes to keep water flowing (otherwise, the water shuts off).
James said the fact the splash pad is unattended was a key factor in its early opening. That’s not true of the Clement Washington facility, the wading pool in 35th Division Park, or the municipal swimming pool on South 11th Street. Those facilities require attendants, and finding staff will be a key factor in determining whether they can open for Memorial Day.
“The hardest part is finding all the adequate staff. That’s why hours are limited to the most popular times,” James said.
Parks and Recreation staff have said they are working to get the municipal pool up and running, to include cleaning the facility and ensuring its filters are working properly. James said the bigger issue is finding lifeguards to man the pool. While the Clement Washington splash pad and the wading pool use attendants, the swimming pool needs lifeguards: a minimum of seven regular lifeguards and two head guards to ensure the pool can open to capacity. That staffing level ensures a ratio of one lifeguard to 25 swimmers. Unless the city has that minimum staffing level, it will have to limit the number of people who can use the pool at one time.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” she said.
Parks and Recreation is accepting applications from those who want to be lifeguards this summer, and James said the city is working to set up a class to train those who don’t hold certification. But they need enough applicants to make the class viable.
Wading pools at Harmon Park and Mocine Park will not open this summer because of deteriorating conditions.
There is another bit of good news for those who use the municipal swimming pool: there will be no entry fee. City Council members voted earlier this year to remove the daily fee.