Feature Article - January 2010
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Extended Access

Is an Enclosure the Right Option to Add Seasons to Your Facility?

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Practical Considerations

Not to burst your bubble (particularly if that's the type of enclosure you're considering), but before you get carried away thinking of all the enhancements an enclosure will offer, there are a number of practical factors to consider as well:

Cost: Building, staffing and maintaining an indoor facility can be expensive, and even with the array of bonuses your enclosure will provide, it may take some time before you're back in the black. Consider carefully whether your community or customer base can support such an endeavor.

"Additional revenue has been generated, but [the newly enclosed pool] is still a long way from carrying its own weight during the winter months," said Lava Hot Springs Foundation's Lowe. "The only saving grace is our access to natural hot water used for heating the pool and building. There's no way could we afford the cost of natural gas or electric heating."

Part of the reason finances are a challenge for the Lava Hot Springs Foundation is their community's small resident population. They rely heavily on the seasonal wave of tourists, and "it is difficult to change people's attitudes about swimming in the winter," Lowe said. "If we had more of a population base—like a municipal pool or a YMCA has—all-day programming would be great," he added.

How to Build: How will you convert your outdoor assets to indoor? Will your current facility work as an indoor one? Although there are some fairly simple enclosure options, such as air domes or "bubbles" and inflatable enclosures (see sidebar), sometimes, in the long run, it's simpler to build an indoor facility from scratch than to try to convert something that already exists.

Many times adding a permanent enclosure to a structure doesn't work because what exists may be older and doesn't conform to current building codes, noted Jim Lothrop, a partner and architect with Lothrop Associates in Valhalla, N.Y. "People try to enclose old pools, but once you start the project everything has to come up to current codes." However, there's always a way to be creative. Lothrop Associates worked with the village of Ossining, N.Y., a few years ago to convert their aging outdoor pool into an exciting indoor facility (see sidebar). Although they built a brand-new pool, they were able to avoid completely new construction by configuring the locker rooms at the adjoining gym to serve swimmers as well. (The old outdoor bathhouse was not adequate for an indoor pool.)

If you're considering an air dome or inflatable enclosure, these may be classified as temporary structures and require fewer (or no) building permits, depending on the laws in your area. (Be sure to check!)

Lothrop also noted that control is an important feature of community and recreation buildings. "You want to know who's going in and coming out, and you don't want people wandering in unsupervised," he said. While newly designed and constructed buildings typically include one front door to serve as a checkpoint, this sort of flow "can be a challenge if you're enclosing an outdoor pool." He added that when enclosing an existing structure it may also be difficult to ensure that offices and first aid stations and supervisory posts are all located in appropriate areas, not to mention coordinating things like mechanical systems, hot water and electricity.