The ABCs of Aquatic Design
An Alphabetical Stroll Through the Latest Trends
By Dawn Klingensmith
Every year, aquatics facilities gain recognition and win awards for excellence in design. Perhaps the odds of winning are better for places with spectacular or quirky design elements or amenities, such as thrill rides or hot tubs shaped like horseshoes or clovers. Yet apart from these wow factors are straightforward design features that consistently impress judges and, more importantly, win over the public. Foremost among them is a mix of amenities and a design layout that maximizes programming options and appeals to all ages, from toddlers to seniors.
Does your existing or proposed aquatics center have what it takes to be a winner in the eyes of the community? And does it meet objective and subjective measures of what constitutes good design? Here's an A to Z guide of design considerations that streamline operations and make for a better user experience. Also included are aquatics facilities that serve as examples of tried-and-true or progressive design principles.
Access. "There's no need for a public door directly from the outside or the lobby straight onto the pool deck. All access to the pool should be through locker rooms (except for spectator areas, but these should be segregated from the deck anyway)," said Dave Rowland, president of Lutra Aquatics in West Granby, Conn. "Doors leading directly onto the pool deck, which architects seem to love, are just asking for operational problems."
Ages. Design and provide programming with multiple generations in mind. "Our growing senior population means there's more of a need for senior classes as well as wellness and therapy pools," said Melinda Kempfer, business development coordinator, Water Technology Inc., Beaver Dam, Wis. "More and more families are attending together, from toddlers to grandparents."
Bubble Benches. Underwater seating with jets provides an area for parents to relax while supervising children. Bubble benches can be used therapeutically, too, providing a hands-free massage with jets aimed at specific body parts to provide pain relief and muscle relaxation.
Budget. Estimating construction costs for a new facility is difficult, as expenses vary depending on location, availability of materials and other factors. However, the aquatics design firm Counsilman-Hunsaker offers three common ways to prepare an initial budget. First, obtain information from similar operations nearby to get a general idea of cost. Second, use industry averages available in publications that cover construction costs, building standards and other industry data. These resources can provide square-foot cost estimates, and some may take into account local variances. Third, perform a site-specific analysis using a preliminary design and accounting for the types of materials and labor costs in your area. This usually requires a consultant's help.
Chokepoint. Entrances to pools require careful monitoring. "Too many pools, especially school pools, are built with no means to control entry," Rowland said. An access chokepoint helps.
Ceiling height. "High ceilings look nice but cost money for their entire lives. All that air has to be heated or cooled," Rowland said. They can also present maintenance challenges and expenses. At one facility, "the architect didn't include any reasonable way to reach certain lights that are 40 feet above 12 feet of water," Rowland writes on the Lutra Aquatics Web site. "As a result, changing these lamps costs several thousand dollars per bulb."