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

Making It Happen

Despite the splash of cold water in the previous section, our goal is not to discourage you. Those we spoke with are largely thrilled with their enclosures, and you can be, too. Just be smart about how you proceed with the project:

Think Carefully: "My best advice for starting the process is to be completely honest with yourself about the cost of construction and performance of the facility," said Lava Hot Springs Foundation's Lowe. "It is going to lose money for quite a period of time in a tourist setting—unless you do things that are very unique or you have access to a captive market. Our best hope is to someday break even on the operating costs of the facility. We will never recoup the construction costs."

Evaluate your audience (and potential audience) and talk to those in your community about what they would like and what they'd be willing to support. Do a careful cost analysis—perhaps with professional help—to find out exactly what sort of financial outlook you'll be dealing with. (See sidebar for an example of one village's process with this.)

Choose Wisely: You'll also want to determine the best type of enclosure for your venue and situation. Do you need something more temporary and seasonal, or are you looking to make a permanent change? What type of materials will work best for the facility you'd like to enclose?

"A more affordable option would include bubbles, or air tents," Lothrop said. "That's an initial cost, but then they're less expensive after that."

However, he cautioned, don't think these options are worry-free. Because they're made of lighter, more flexible materials, by nature they won't last as long as a permanent structure. And if you're taking them down and putting them up for various seasons, that maintenance time and cost can add up. Sometimes condensation is an issue inside a bubble, Lothrop added, and they're not known for their fabulous acoustics, so if you're looking to maintain a specific level of humidity or are planning to host events you'd like to be clearly audible, a more temporary enclosure may not be the best choice.

"Usually for pools and tennis courts you see a pre-engineered metal building," Lothrop said. "Those are less expensive, and for a tennis court they're usually fine, but for swimming they're not so good because of the humidity. That's tough on structural steel." Instead, when Lothrop Associates has a pool-enclosure project, they opt for an enclosure with an aluminum frame, which is not corroded by moisture. "Ice rink enclosures are OK made out of steel, but when you get to a big thing like a soccer field, [enclosures are] usually bubbles because that's only thing that will stand big enough…. Structural steel is not affordable if [the space is] too big."