MILTON-FREEWATER — A chilly breeze and taste of rain Wednesday morning postponed Nate Price’s concrete-pouring plans but nothing dampened his enthusiasm.
Price is the founder of California-based Play & Splash, a company that specializes in residential and commercial “water play” features, including the splash pad he is working on here.
Plans — in spite of the unseasonal cool front that swept into the region this week — call for Price to drive out of town Friday with a finished 950-square-foot splash pad in his rearview mirror.
The project began more than a year ago as a gleam in Molly Tucker Hasenbank’s eye. As the mother of two young daughters and president of the Milton-Freewater Rotary Club, the attorney was eager to see a splash pad on the city’s short list as officials began exploring a parks and recreation master plan in 2019.
Getting a splash pad, similar to what the city of Walla Walla has at Washington Park, made sense for her own community, Tucker Hasenbank said then.
Unlike public pools, splash pads are free to all comers, have fewer regulations and are more child-friendly and safe, she pointed out last summer.
“Kids just want to get wet,” she said.
Over the past year, the Rotary Club applied for Oregon state and private foundation grants and sought donations from businesses and individual people to fund a splash pad.
In the end, enough money flowed in to add extra water features, pay for a security camera system and put up a donor recognition plaque.
A fundraising event brought in nearly $20,000.
Help, too, came via the city — more than $12,000 of labor and supplies – and local contractors.
Among them: Don Jackson of Don Jackson Excavation who donated his labor, equipment and materials to prepare the Freewater Park site at the north tip of the town, Tucker Hasenbank said.
The generosity of the community allowed the project to grow from a basic model to a splash pad worth more than $100,000 with extra amenities — water cannon, anyone? — to offer the families who will eventually use it, she said.
As the company’s designer and builder, it brings him a great deal of satisfaction to turn a normal piece of land into an “extraordinary piece of land,” Price said.
The splash pad should last about 30 years, the builder guesstimated Wednesday as he watched his crew work around the water rings and nozzles already in place.
In his 10 years in the industry, Price has installed hundreds of splash pads, and demand keeps growing, he said.
“Public pools are good, sure, but they have a lot higher maintenance costs and you have to staff them. And one thing that’s nice with this splash pad is it will be fresh water, so you don’t have the chemicals.”
To use a chlorinated recirculating system would have skyrocketed initial costs and ongoing maintenance time and money for the city of Milton-Freewater, which will bring the splash pad under its administrative umbrella upon completion, officials said.
The site will use about 7,000 gallons of water in the summer. Sensors will activate and stop water flow as needed. Once it has sprinkled delighted children, the water gets shunted away to the city’s leased-out acreage where it will irrigate crops grown for animal feed, City Manager Linda Hall.
Because of COVID-19 slowdowns everywhere, this project is Price’s first installation for 2020. And because Umatilla County is currently in baseline mode to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the splash pad cannot yet be open for public use.
There goes his bonus, the joy of seeing that first wave of excited children before he leaves town, Price said.
Tucker Hasenbank still has hope, knowing the splash pad in Joseph, Ore., stays open through September, she said.
Friday’s finish could have benefited from a public dedication ceremony that would highlight the new asset, Tucker Hasenbank noted.
Still, when the state does allow Umatilla County’s recreation spots to reopen, Milton-Freewater’s youngest residents are going to have something very special to celebrate, Tucker Hasenbank said.
“I’m very happy with this, it ended up being a lot nicer than I thought it was going to be.”