In the fall of 2010, architecture students at Carnegie Mellon University proposed reuses of the decommissioned Leslie Park Pool in Lawrenceville. The winning idea was a water spray and slide contraption that wouldn't waste water.
The feature -- part of a larger master plan for the empty pool -- was envisioned as Pennsylvania's first closed-loop passive water filtration system. The idea won the students a Ford College Community Challenge Grant in a national competition held by the Ford Motor Co. Fund. It sparked matching funds to create a mobile prototype that was unveiled Thursday at the university.
Its official name is Puriflume Splash Pad Play Space, but it was nicknamed EcoBeastie by Susan Englert, an organizer of the Leslie Park Pool Collective, which plans events at the pool to promote its reuse.
The 14-foot-tall orange and blue contraption looks like the skeleton of a wondrous creature with a humped back that conceals an interior sliding tube. It is mounted on a trailer and will make the rounds of the city this summer. It will be at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on Aug. 3 and 4. Other dates are not set.
"Some people think it looks like a whale, a dinosaur or a space alien," said John Folan, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Urban Design Build Studio, whose students worked on the master plan with the community. "We've had kids in on the process to help inspire the design."
With nearly half of Pittsburgh's pools decommissioned in the past decade, the city has substituted spray parks at several locations.
The conventional spray park costs about $400,000; a closed-loop spray park costs about $550,000, Mr. Folan said. "More expensive on the front end, but in the long haul it makes more sense for the environment."
"Spray parks are a neat amenity, but they put a lot of load on the combined sewer system," he said, adding that conventional spray parks use as much as 100,000 gallons of water a day, none of it recaptured. EcoBeastie uses and cleans 110 gallons over and over.
"People at the city and county level were excited by the opportunities" of a closed-loop system, he said.
The students and Leslie pool collective members met with city officials in December 2010 and presented concepts from the master plan as possible demonstration projects.
Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said that the city will be installing more spray parks and that "saving taxpayer dollars and energy is always something we are interested in. The mayor's concerned with implementing the best technology that makes the most environmental and economic sense."
EcoBeastie's prototype features can serve as a model for a future spray and water park anywhere, Mr. Folan said. The circulation system and ultraviolet water sterilizer are powered by a photovoltaic array.
The closed-loop prototype calls for a filtration system that uses sand. Because EcoBeastie is mobile, its filtration is diatomaceous earth -- a compound of microscopic sea plant skeletons used by gardeners -- because it is much lighter and can be reused as a natural fertilizer and insecticide, Mr. Folan said.
He said he does not think maintenance costs on a closed-loop spray park would be any more than on a system that does not recapture water.
The Ford Motor Co., Allegheny County and AutoDesk, a technology company, contributed $125,000 to pay for the project and the monitoring system. The Michael Baker Corp. provided engineering services.
Mike Schmidt, director of Education and Community Development at Ford, said the proposals that met the criteria of the grant challenge had to address sustainability and community service in an innovative way.
"Winning proposals have a distinctive student perspective on what it means to have a sustainable community," Mr. Schmidt said. "Each year, we select five winning proposals to receive this award. The CMU proposal stood out because of its innovative approach to educating the public about issues involving sustainability and water."