Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford, Conn.
By Dawn Klingensmith
here are several characteristics of Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford, Conn., that make it distinctive.
Its water is so pure it's been called "sacred."
It is a public-private partnership. The town owns it, and a private company runs it.
It makes money.
Oh, and let's not forget the underwater stationary bikes, underwater treadmills and aqua-spinning classes. Although the public-private partnership might seem like a novel approach to aquatics facility management, the contractual arrangement between West Hartford and the company, Aquatics for Life, was formed 18 years ago. At the time, the town had a newly renovated aquatics building, but it also had a strained budget and a staff shortage. Researching possible solutions, the town came across Aquatics for Life. The company said it could make Cornerstone Aquatics Center self-supporting, with no taxpayer subsidies, if the town would simply stand out of its way.
"The best way to describe it is the town is like a landlord, and Aquatics for Life is the tenant," said Jim Capodiece, director of West Hartford's Department of Human and Leisure Services.
Aquatics for Life takes care of all the day-to-day operations, while the town is responsible for the building's structural maintenance. "If anything goes wrong with a major structural system like the plumbing, that's our responsibility," Capodiece said.
The partnership is advantageous to both parties. Among other benefits to West Hartford, public school swim teams get to use Cornerstone for free and the town's youth swimming program receives a discount. And while most municipal pools lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, Cornerstone's revenues consistently exceed expenses by a comfortable margin.
Aside from making money, Cornerstone Aquatics Center stands apart because of its water's purity. Although the water contains chlorine as required by state law, a sanitation system based on drinking-water purification technology continuously eliminates byproducts of chlorine that cause eye and skin irritation; plus, there's no chlorine odor or taste. Patrons have reported that they don't need to shower after they swim because they smell fresh and feel cleansed, said Dave Rowland, president, Aquatics for Life. "The water is exceptionally clear. There's almost a silky texture to it," he added. The sanitation system was developed by Simply Water, Kingwood, Texas.
Two years ago, Cornerstone added an aquatics cross-training center, called XTC, consisting of 16 underwater stationary bikes and four underwater treadmills. Hydrorider, an Italian company, manufactured the submersible equipment. XTC also features exercise areas on the pool deck, and greatly enhances Cornerstone's other amenities—an 11-lane, 25-yard lap pool with a diving well, a multipurpose pool with zero-depth entry, a hydrotherapy pool and a traditional fitness room with cardiovascular and strength-training equipment.
Rowland said XTC entices people who aren't lap swimmers to exercise in the water. "There are health benefits not only from swimming but from just being in the water. I feel the population as a whole would really benefit by getting in water, not only from a health and fitness standpoint but also for mental well-being," he said. "Studies have shown being in water causes the body to release chemicals similar to those released in deep meditation."