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Venturing to New Heights

Toucan Hideaway Matches Up to Neighboring Water Park

by Mike Dahl, LASN

In West Chicago, Illinois, the very popular Turtle Splash Water Park, is a 5-acre facility featuring a pool with numerous water slides. As an enhancement to the water play destination, the West Chicago Park District appointed the Hitchcock Design Group to create an adventure playground named Toucan's Hideaway. The new area with a tropical theme has a custom-designed, multi-tiered play structure that resembles trees and a treehouse, and serves as its central hub.
The height of the main play structure is about the same as the tallest waterslide and was meant to draw attention to the playground as people walk through the entrance located at the pool area.
GameTime, the play structure manufacturer, worked with Hitchcock Design Group and the West Chicago Park District on various versions of the play piece and then conducted virtual test fits. The landscape design team would then make recommendations on modifications from a functional standpoint such as how it should be positioned and where it should connect as the ground was not flat and some connections were up to 6 feet off the ground.
For a slip-resistant splash pad, finely broomed concrete was specified. Water Odyssey supplied jets with poppers that are flush with the pad, vertical pieces to spray water down and bollards with a jet on top that pushes out mushroom-shaped water umbrellas. The water elements are controlled by a preprogrammed computer that the park district can adjust, and are turned on by visitors with the push of an activator button on a separate bollard.

Big rocks were made from glass fiber reinforced concrete. Water and power lines were installed to the rocks. Inside each one is a fan to help create mist and blow it out of a hole on the side of the rock, creating a low-level mist around the play environment.
The playground was designed with a nature-based play theme. Some of the elements required the equipment manufacturer to use a combination of shop prepared glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) and site-applied custom concrete to create the treelike forms, vines, leaves, mushrooms, and creatures. Other elements were specified out of a catalogue and then incorporated into the custom works.

Turtle Splash Water Park is a 5-acre enclosed facility located in West Chicago, Illinois. Main attractions include a 12' waterfall with zero-depth entry, a bucket drop, corkscrew slide, body slide, tube slide and tot slide.

Also on the site, somewhat tucked behind it, was an old defunct play area and sandbox. Wanting to upgrade that, and offer an alternative to the water play, the owners of the park, the West Chicago Park District put together a team that included the Hitchcock Design Group and GameTime to produce an adventure playground.

An Attractive Neighbor
"The water park was built in the 60s and it has been just fabulously maintained and added to over the years," remarked Bill Inman, ASLA, the president and CEO of the landscape architecture firm, which has been in business since 1980 and counts parks and recreation as the strongest component of their portfolio.
The mission on this project, of which he was the principal, was to "create an alternative play experience that could compete on the adventure and excitement scale" of Turtle Splash.

"Otherwise the owners figured they would have just spent their money for nothing because the kids would just stay in the pool," he added.

One of the major design focuses was the visual impact the area would have when viewed from the entrance to the aquatic center, where the first thing patrons see is the big water slide.

"And we wanted this play piece in their same cone of vision so it would create an immediate choice," remembers Inman. "They are both about the same height."

The whole area is about five acres with a secured perimeter. The playground, named Toucan's Hideaway, is about a quarter acre. Besides the main entrance near the pool, there is a separate access that park officials can open up to allow usage before and after the pool season.

Another key purpose of the development of the playground was to cater to small kids and others who might be intimidated by the water park. And at the same time, the design team wanted those visitors to be able to enjoy some water play so they added a splash pad with in-ground jets, vertical pieces to spray water down and bollards with a fountain component at the top. This created an opportunity for kids to "get wet in a safe, secure environment, a place to go without being overwhelmed."

Partners in Fun
As for working with the play structure's manufacturer, Inman called them great design associates that they have collaborated with on many projects so they have a comfortable relationship.

"There are no egos. They take our input and we take their input and it's a terrific back and forth."

He cites creative play as one of his firm's key niches, which gives them great opportunities to work on some of the best planned environments available for landscape architects to compete for.

"We really made it a focus of ours to become experts in play and we're very comfortable working in the public sector and dealing with all the various challenges our owners face in that setting," Inman enthuses. "Which is great because it is fun work and at the end of the day, people really benefit from it."

Hitchcock Design Group was hired as the prime consultant. The West Chicago Park District contracted with the playground equipment manufacturer separately to design the custom feature instead of just specifying play structures out of a catalogue.

"We designed the environment and where the play equipment could go," states Inman, "and then worked with them on the scale and layout of the play environment to ensure that all the safety zones were intact and this was meeting all the applicable codes and guidelines."

Because the manufacturer was working in a vacuum on this play piece, they would make various iterations of it and then produce virtual test fits. Recommendations from Hitchcock Design Group on orientation, positioning and connection points would follow.

Besides helping adapt the main play structure to the actual, physical site, the landscape architecture firm designed the balance of the environment - play surface, walkways, landscape, lighting and splash pad that are part of this playground.

Not all Fun and Games
As for challenges, Inman cited having to deal with a retrofit of a 50-year-old facility, particularly its water, sanitary and storm drainage utilities, which had little documentation on where and how big they were. And because the site is in a low spot, water doesn't naturally drain out of the area so finding drains that function and providing the city enough info for permitting created issues.

And he adds, "There is a lot of grade change on this site so working with the manufacturer on the connection points (of the play structure) took a lot of back and forth collaboration.

But ultimately, the partnership, and the results that came from it were very satisfying.

"They were really able to focus on what they do best and we were able to focus on what we do best," Inman wraps up. "If you really commit to the collaboration, this is what you get; you get a really wonderful outcome."

As seen in LASN magazine, September 2019.

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February 27, 2020, 9:39 am PDT

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