Feature Article - February 2006
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

Just Add Water

By Kelli Anderson


GETTING SOME FRESH AIR

Design should take into account all the senses—sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. For indoor pools, air-quality probably tops the list of sensory concerns.

For the enclosed facility, HVAC systems, and competent maintenance staff to go with them, are a fresh-air must. HVACs should be included with the initial design of the facility to ensure that ductwork is properly positioned. Chlorine gasses, heavier than air, hover above pool water and are most effectively removed by ducts placed at ground level.

As any aquatic center manager knows, enclosed facilities fight a constant battle of humidity and chlorine-induced corrosion. Regulating air quality is essential to keeping clients comfortable and surfaces free of rust and costly maintenance headaches.

"The importance of air quality for indoor aquatic facilities can't be over emphasized," says Chris Stuart, director of aquatics and corporate safety director for the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Va. "You have to have proper ventilation—it's probably the biggest indoor issue."

The air purging system used by the Great Wolf Lodge facility is controlled by the touch of a button and can purge the building's air within minutes. According to Stuart, the system was used successfully several times during the facility's first summer of operation this past year.

For facilities looking for the temperature control of the great indoors but without all the air-quality issues that come with it, natatoriums with clear-panel, retractable roofs are another good solution.

Letting the bad air literally "go through the roof" can be a much cheaper way to regulate the air quality of an essentially indoor pool. In addition, it also adds the sun's natural ability to break down chlorine to the manager's arsenal of chloramine-fighting weapons.

For warm climates, cooling systems can be aided by the insulating properties of large-pane polycarbonate. For seasonal climates, clear-panel roofing systems allow HVAC systems to operate only a portion of the year. In both scenarios, facilities can see a significant HVAC-system savings in both monthly utility bills and in maintenance costs.

Enclosed pools also have the advantage of creating a year-round swimming season—a real boon to areas where climates become either oppressively hot or too cold. Increased revenues from year-round use and expanded programming usually will more than cover the initial investment of enclosing a pool.

Although not permanent, an inflatable dome, which usually lasts about 10 years, is another enclosure option that may also give a community the programming and year-round revenue-building power to eventually consider a more permanent enclosure solution.


A BOUNTIFUL FEAST

Concessions have become a basic expectation of most pool patrons, and if done well, can be a bountiful source of revenue. Here are a few tips of culinary wisdom to help you make the most of this booming attraction:

1. Less is more manageable. Keep your menu to a reasonable size—20 items or less is a good, general rule.

2. Make sure you offer some healthy choices on the menu.

3. Select food items that are fast/prepackaged, taste good and profitable (such as juice or water).

4. Offer some brand names to take advantage of their loyal following.

5. Pay attention to trendy items appealing to the younger crowds.

6. Price carefully—ingredients or menu items should only be 30 percent of the selling price. Price too high and items won't sell. Mid-range is usually a safe bet.

7. Don't sell anything for under a $1.

8. Make your managing presence known often—especially with inexperienced or young employees.

9. Even if a full-range concession is not an option, coffeehouse-style gathering spaces and beverages are a very popular alternative.

10. Stay ahead of popular item orders—make ahead to anticipate the lunch-crunch and keep lines down.

BON APPETITE!