An oasis from the midsummer heat, an escape from the all-too-familiar threat of violence and a welcome addition to the community.
That’s what community members on the city’s East Side are calling the state-of-the-art splash pad at Martin Luther King Park about a month after its long-awaited – and much-delayed – debut and after a spate of rainy weather has made it tough to enjoy the splash pad even after it opened.
But what started as another dreary day cleared up enough for the water feature to be put to good use Sunday. Residents who spoke with The Buffalo News during an afternoon at the splash pad gave the $4.5 million water feature high marks in safety and enjoyability despite the yearlong construction delay that marred its arrival.
Stephanie Nitsche, an area resident, brought two of her kids to the splash pad to beat the 80-plus degree heat. “It’s just a really good day for it, and the kids were hot and sticky at home,” she said.
Nitsche, 28, said this was her family’s first time using the splash pad, but not for lack of trying – rainy weather kept her from bringing her kids to the park at least four times since the pad opened June 1, she estimated.
Sunday afternoon, however, the weather proved ideal for a jaunt to the splash pad. Nitsche sat on a nearby bench and watched as her kids sprinted through some of the splash pad’s 300 synchronized jets of water, shrieking delightedly all the way.
Nitsche added that, come winter, she looked forward to watching her kids skate across the same surface. The five-acre water feature is designed to be a splash pad in the summer, a reflecting pool in the spring and fall, and an ice rink in the winter.
Fellow mom Danielle Washington was visiting with her 1-year-old son. She said her family uses the splash pad often, in part because it is conveniently located across the street from their home.
Washington, 29, said members of the community use the splash pad on a regular basis. Sunday afternoon, about 20 kids could be seen playing in the splash pad. Washington said that number was about average.
“It’s great,” she said. “We needed it.”
Washington did have one complaint: The water feature itself should be larger in order to accommodate more kids at a time, she said. The circular splash pad covers four acres, but less than half of that surface area appears to be in range of the fountains.
Twenty-one-year-old Shaquille Dudley works as a splash pad attendant for the Olmsted Parks Conservancy on weekends. “People come out every day” to use the splash pad, he said. Saturday was the busiest Dudley had ever seen the splash pad – he estimated that about a hundred kids were using it and the nearby pool.
The children at play amid the glittering arcs of water made for a serene scene Sunday afternoon. Chantele Ross, a neighborhood resident for the past 14 years, said the relaxed atmosphere was what kept her and her family coming back to the splash pad.
Ross, 42, lounged in an armchair as her two children played. She said she felt safer here than elsewhere in the community, reassured by the constant police presence. A police car was parked near the entrance to the splash pad, and the officer on duty said that an officer was assigned to the park seven days a week during the splash pad’s hours of operation.
Before the splash pad opened, “I never came and did this because of safety,” Ross said.
“It’s a break,” she added. “That will make me keep coming back.”