Not easily duplicated, the slides at Rotary Park are an engineering marvel

·4 min read

Last year while the slides at Rotary Park were off due to provincial restrictions, staff at the Town of Whitecourt, including Engineering Services Coordinator Juan Grande, did necessary work on the area.

Typically, the slides are replaced every five years or so depending on need, and it usually resulted in the team working frantically to complete work ahead of opening day. "One of the good things that came out of this whole thing was that we had the time needed to schedule the work, and we actually did some additional work. We not only replaced the second run, which is the fastest one, but we also put a pathway around the slides," explained Grande.

He said that the area directly along the slides was where people routinely travelled anyways and that the grass was not handling it well. "We would end up with the grass basically gone by the end of the season, and mud would track onto the slides." Once they realized the grass was not cutting it as a pathway, Grande said they tried sand. "That worked well, but we still had the same issues. At the end of every day, we found a lot of sand on the channel, and we would have to clean that up."

The new pathway is cushioning and has a brick look to it. It is similar to the product on the ground in the play park area. "We were able to get a portion of the cost through a grant so, we will see how it performs this year," said Grande.

As for the liner on the slides, Grande said the park's popularity has led to them replacing the liner quicker. "This time, when we rebuilt it, we reconstructed the entire channel. Underneath the surface, we have a geomembrane, and underneath that, we have two layers of non-woven geotextile. That dampens the feel, so it is not as hard as a rock. Below that, we have a very deep layer of sand, and then below that is a reconstructed gravel base. All of that work happened while the slides were not running. In the long term, it will probably perform much better," explained Grande.

He said researching newly available products or ways to do things is tricky since the slides at Rotary are unique. "A lot of communities have approached us, and they want to build something similar to what we have. They have found that it is a big challenge because it's a massive undertaking. You need a pond. Without the pond, we would not have the water slides. We needed that volume to be able to push the water to the top," said Grande.

Had it not been for Millar Western needing a serious chunk of dirt to build a docking area, the pond would have been just as far of a dream as it is now for communities eyeing up slides of their own. "Millar Western needed material. Then, we basically restored it and ended up with a mound of material which is now the location of the water slides. One of our previous directors was familiar with the Red Deer area, and there is a park there where they had something similar. Theirs was different because you couldn't go down it. It was more like a pavement structure where you could wet your feet and then go down the channel," explained Grande.

"We borrowed that idea and looked at some tailing ponds that were using a geomembrane to contain the tailings and adopted it to our site specifics." The first slide constructed is the "slower slide" that has little pool areas. "We didn't want that massive volume of water doing down. We wanted more of a splash pool. Then later, as we were looking at expanding, we modelled a much faster one. Lots of people have contributed to this project."

Another cool part of the project is the hydraulic system. The volume of water moved up the slides is a lot more than people might realize, and it takes serious power. "The pump is similar to what you would have at a water treatment plant. There are many moving parts to be able to have that experience for people to enjoy it. It was a well-thought-out thing and improved every time someone brought forward an idea," said Grande.

The slower slide was replaced not too long ago, as was the bottom portion of the slide area. Last year's fix included the entire top piece and the second, faster slide. Grande said that future replacement would depend on use and need. He said the slides are constantly inspected for tears and are fixed immediately. He said the added downtime last year and this year ahead of the Canada Day opening gave them time to make sure everything was inspected and ready. "It's so unique. I think it's recognized throughout our province because there is nothing similar to it that is out there. We are pretty privileged to have that facility and for it to be free of charge."

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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