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Supplement Feature - February 2017

Put Your Pool in Overdrive

Programming Your Pool for Success

By Rick Dandes


Pools are an incredible community amenity. But in this era of economic belt tightening, and given lean parks and recreation department budgets in many municipalities, it's more important than ever for managers to maximize swimming pool revenue and efficiency.

Every effort should be made to make the best use of pool time, explained Joshua Reusser, aquatics coordinator, Northwest Recreation Center, Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, Utah. That's easier said than done. "Municipalities with a vibrant swimming community," he said, "often have trouble figuring out ways to have enough programming for everyone."

When Reusser programs a pool, he tries to have activities that appeal to all generations, in order to give everyone an opportunity to find something interesting and engaging. "My favorite part about pool programming is seeing the connections made with real people," he said. "Locker rooms are places where more than just clothing is shed. We also take off our outside qualifiers, titles and positions, for example, and strip down to our essential human selves. Connections are made across social, gender, generational and racial divides that might not have otherwise taken place."

Because of these opportunities for human connection, Reusser feels that the most important aspect of pool programming is ensuring a robust swimming lesson program is at the core. "If all segments of the community served by a recreation center, including diverse areas, have the ability to access the swimming lesson program," he said, "then other pool programs will see greater success, and the pool can be a hub of community engagement and development."

In addition to the basics, like the always popular learn-to-swim programs, many pools are attracting new customers by expanding and offering everything from therapeutic recreation and aquatic exercise to water obstacle courses and more.

"I think that how you program your pool depends on the community you're in, and the type of pool you have," explained Crissy Withrow, vice president, Midwest Pool Management, St. Louis, Mo. "I've been in the pool business for more than 20 years. When I started as a lifeguard, you just had a rectangular pool, which is great for lap swimming. Now, that same rectangular pool may have to also accommodate other kinds of activities, features and interactive play. It's great for people to have things to play on in the pool. But this does hurt a little in the sense that it hinders other people from doing basic, traditional swimming activities."

One of the challenges faced during the colder months by Ann Arbor, Michigan's Parks and Recreation Department is their small indoor pool facility, the Mack Indoor Pool. (The city has the Mack, as well as three outdoor pools used during warm weather months.) "We have a 25-yard pool that has six lanes, and then we have an attached 30-by-42-foot children's tot pool, which only goes to three feet deep. A ramp leading into the pool provides for easy accessibility," said Gayle Hurn, recreation supervisor. "The two areas are connected to each other but are separated by a wall. And so it really does limit the amount of space we have available."

What Hurn tries to do is offer programming that coincides. "For instance," she said, "during our youth swim team time, we also have private lessons going on as well as open lap swim. We really use all areas of the pool to the max. Log rolling is something we can do on our shallow end, while we have lap swimming and other adult swim team programs going on."

What's critical for Hurn is building in programming that can overlap, so that when kids are in swim team, their parents can lap swim; when parents are in a master swim program and they are practicing, their kids can take private lessons or come to enjoy an open swim period. "That's something we really think about all the time," Hurn said. "What will bring the whole family out, and get them all in the water at the same time? A lot of our cross-programming, the overlapping, is based on that premise."

Hurn is a master scheduler. She rents morning swim time to a school that is connected to her facility. An adult master's program begins early, at 5:45 a.m. "That is for adults who want to get their workout in before going to their day's work," she said. After that the school takes over. From noon to 2, the pool is available for seniors and people who come during their lunch break for lap swim. Late in the afternoon the pool closes; Hurn calls it her "dead period, when people are doing other things and it just doesn't pay to be open."

The evening hours are full. This is when the majority of the pool's cross-programming actually happens, she said. That includes special programming time for tri-athletes, for whom swimming is not their strongest suit. "They still need to build up their endurance and strength, so we have a program for them, complete with coaches, which overlaps with our general swim programs," Hurn said.