Water, Water Everywhere
Designing Flexible Pools
By Dave Ramont
It wasn't all that many years ago when a lot of folks only ventured out to their local swimming pool on the hottest of days. All that was required of your pool was that it be filled with cool, cool water. If there was a diving board or a Popsicle to be had, that was just gravy!
These days, there's a myriad of options when it comes to aquatic facilities and their programming, amenities and activities. Whether it's fitness, competition, instruction, water therapy, or just leisure and recreation, there are many reasons to visit the local pool. So it's no wonder that pool operators and designers need to get creative to ensure that a facility can handle a number of scenarios to attract the largest segment of the population.
Know Your Needs
Whether renovating an existing pool or designing one from scratch, it's important to know what type of patrons the facility wishes to attract, according to Steve Comstock, vice president of design-build firm, RenoSys Corp. He said that in addition to getting to know the customer personally, his company aims to understand the needs of the customer's community.
"With a design-and-build project, there are no set designs—flexibility is the key. We try and morph our systems into their needs." This includes discussing the budget, since they don't want to recommend a pool layout the customer can't afford. "We feel the key to a limited budget is to design a pool complex that will allow for expansion, whether it's adding additional pool areas for future use or to increase water features and amenities at a later date as their budget allows," Comstock said.
Justin Caron, MBA and principal at Aquatic Design Group, agrees that different designs cater to different programs, so you have to understand the needs of your community in order to know what to design. "If you don't have the resources to engage in a formal study by hiring a good consulting firm to do the research for you, there are inexpensive ways to gain some insight into those needs," he said. "These would include utilizing social media with online polls, having handouts and flyers encouraging input, or hosting town-hall-type meetings."
Utilizing the talents of the staff and local people to see what's missing in the market—and discussing what other markets are doing—is critical, according to Doug Whiteaker, principal at Water Technology Inc. As far as reaching a greater audience, he said that having multiple water temperatures and the correct water depths for the programs the facility wants to offer is important.
"That's been one of the things we've seen lately in terms of desires from owners and operators, is making sure we have the ability to have multiple water temperatures." For example, if you want to swim laps or do water aerobics, then cooler water is great—in that 80-to-83-degree range. But if you're hanging out with friends, going down a waterslide or walking around a lazy river, then you want warmer temps—from 84 to 87 degrees.
Caron said that, in general, "warmer, shallower water is flexible, attractive water. It meets the needs of the majority of programs and is more comfortable for those who aren't as active, as well as those who are proficient swimmers. Deeper, cooler water and rectilinear pools will always be necessary for competitive and fitness users. Multiple bodies of water are typically preferable to a larger, single body of water. Having age-appropriate zones within an aquatics center can help with user satisfaction and safety."
Whiteaker describes some of the things they've done with moveable floors, so you can have a deeper pool with potential for competitive use, but then you move the floor up to have a shallower water depth that appeals to water exercise groups and learn-to-swim classes.
"We've done pools where you can actually move the floor up and if you position a bulkhead that has thermal isolation capacities, then you can actually have two different water temperatures in the same pool. So now you basically have two pools in one."
And while there will be an upcharge for this due to the bulkhead and the need for two filtration systems, Whiteaker points out that the building footprint doesn't need to grow much.