Coming Up for Air
Texas Swimming Center, University of Texas at Austin
Mark Spitz's historic performance in the 1972 Summer Olympics sparked a newfound popularity of swimming in the United States. With one of the original university-based aquatic centers to open in the country following these games, the University of Texas at Austin set the bar for such facilities.
Modeling the facility after the Olympic aquatic center in Munich, Germany, the 9-foot deepwater racing pool was designed to be a fast competition pool, devoid of wavy or choppy water. However, 30 years later, the facility was in need of some upgrades both in terms of air quality protection and comfort for swimmers and spectators. With these two factors intertwined, the type of HVAC system installed along with large-diameter, low-speed fans set a new standard for natatoriums around the country.
Host to a variety of events including Olympic trials, national and championship events for USA Swimming and the NCAA, as well as "The Duel in the Pool" between Russia and the United States, the facility is never at a loss for action. Despite the building's constant use, facility managers redesigned and upgraded the entire ventilation system to account for increased temperatures, use and air quality.
Several factors contribute to natatoriums' struggle with air quality. According to Charles Logan, director of the Texas Swimming Center at UT Austin, "One challenge stems from the type of chlorine currently used in swimming pools, and another is the water supply provided by communities."
He added, "Tighter air conditioning systems have decreased air quality, and with bigger events, bigger [AC] loads are put in facilities."
With air conditioning systems being a key player in air quality concerns, Logan installed four large-diameter, low-speed fans in the facility to circulate the air and aid the ventilation system.
The ventilation system within the Texas Swimming Center was completely revamped using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling—a computer simulation of airflow—to help define a system that would best provide comfort as well as improve air quality.
"We used a carbon gas-space filtration, and increased the amount of outside air we bring in, not just recirculate the air we have in there," said Logan. To aid this process PowerfoilX fans from the Big Ass Fan Company were installed throughout the pool complex. "We have a daily setting for these fans, but at night when we don't have anybody in the facility, three things happen," he explained. "Release valves open up in the building, the fans are turned up to full speed, and 100 percent outside air is brought in to flush out all the air that circulated throughout the day."