Feature Article - February 2004
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In the Swim

The Best Strategies for Aquatic Center Peak Performance

By Kim Tobin

Beachwood's Big Rebuild

A case in point where rebuilding made better sense is the city pool in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The original pool site held a 50-meter Olympic-sized box pool built in 1968.

After an audit in winter 2001, it was determined that infrastructure problems underneath the main pool's concrete deck were failing. Initially, the city was faced with two basic choices: either patch things up for around $20,000 or renovate from between $3 million to 4 million. Ultimately, however, the wants of the community and the right monetary resources led the city to back a much more dramatic rebuilding solution. The result: a $5.2 million family-focused aquatic center that in many ways is more waterpark than pool.

"They decided to move beyond just creating a new pool by really stepping up to the plate and invest in programming as well," says Scot Hunsaker of St. Louis-based Counsilman/Hunsaker and Associates, Inc., architects and designers for the project. "They decided to really do it right."

The city's residents benefited from this big recreational payoff. The long list of family-focused features includes three large water slides that cascade off a 40-foot main slide tower, an 8-foot-wide family slide (which is wide enough to accommodate up to four people sliding together), two splash play areas, an infant/tot pool, an 8-foot-wide current channel, a 25-meter competition pool with eight lap lanes, two diving boards, hydrotherapy water benches, a water vortex, about 6,000 square feet of bathhouse and lifeguard facilities, landscaping within the swim space, and plentiful in-pool shaded areas

and benches.

The facility also went the distance when catering to its very youngest. The baby pool area includes a zero- to 6-inch depth for infants up to 12 months old as well as an area that goes from zero to 8 inches for toddlers. A simple slide also was included in the 8-inch-deep area that cascades onto a safety pad. Fencing separates the baby pool from a splash play area.

"We wanted to have a focus on toddlers and preschoolers to really make sure we had something for everyone," says Recreation Supervisor Pete Conces, who acknowledges that plenty of residents who aren't kids are making full use of the center as well.

"When the facility was first built, I had residents tell me they thought that they'd have nothing to do here because they thought everything was for young kids," Conces says. "But whether it was grandmothers who wanted to float in our current channel or seniors who sat on the benches in the water and relaxed, we really have all ages enjoy it."

After its first summer in business, the center's popularity among residents is evident. In its inaugural season, it drew almost 50,000 visitors, sold nearly 3,000 season passes and averaged about $1,000 in drop-in fees each day.

Keeping a pool profitable:
renovate vs. replace

If an older pool is not bringing enough people through the doors, the decision to renovate what exists or to build a new one from scratch often depends on what lies beneath.

"The tough choice is, yes, you can cover up and add to anything but will it last even 10 years?" Schwartz says. "Where there are issues with recirculation or water quality, [renovating is] going to mask problems. If you'll still be paying off the funding as the structure is falling apart, the choice is obvious. You can add play features as enhancements, but only where the pool structure is in good condition."

Other communities may have a historic commitment to a project and want to preserve the character of a site with the structural elements. It's important to balance the need to retain historical integrity with what the costs of updates will entail.

"It comes down to goals," Schwartz says. "If a community is willing to invest in fixing a facility that has outlived its physical life because of wanting to preserve its history, then they have to make sure that it ends up being safe and functional as well."