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Feature Article - January 2011

Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson


First, the good news.

Public interest and demand for aquatic fitness and recreation is on the rise, and it's not hard to understand why. Swimming sensation Michael Phelps

during the 2008 Beijing Olympics put competitive swimming back on the map at the same time an aging baby boomer demographic is turning to aquatics for gentler fitness alternatives and therapy to treat aging joints. More than ever, the American public is willing to spend time and money in local aquatic facilities.

The trouble is, this good news comes at a bad time. With cash-strapped communities looking for ways to balance budgets, aquatic facilities—especially those struggling to keep their heads above financial water—are often the first to find themselves on the chopping block with an estimated three public pools closing per week in the United States.

But, there is hope. With new models of management, better understanding of aquatic programming essentials and creative thinking, even failing facilities can be rescued, revived and renewed. It's all about smarter programming.

Raising the Titanic

When Kevin Dessart and his wife, Tina, owners and directors of Colorado Springs Swim School, offered to manage three of the seven public pools being closed by the city of Colorado Springs, Colo., this past summer, they were confident they could use their knowledge of aquatic programming and business savvy to raise what others considered a doomed Titanic.

Although less than one year into their aquatic venture, all three facilities (two outdoor and one indoor) are not only turning a profit, but turning heads in an industry that more than ever needs new ways of doing the essential business of promoting water safety, fitness and fun. In the case of the Dessarts, success began with an adherence to Total Aquatic Programming.

"Total Aquatic Programming has become a tag line for where all pools need to be going (unless its a really unique situation)," said Mick Nelson, facilities development director for USA Swimming in Colorado Springs, Colo. "We've had hundreds of pools close across the country in the last two years, and most of them would love to blame a single new rule or incident, but the fact is that it's just poor long-range planning and expecting an old model of daily fees and the tax base to be able to support the facility. It doesn't work anymore. We need to stop planning to do business in 2010 with 1980 methods."