Supplement Feature - February 2010
Find a printable version here

Raging Waters

Economy's Tumult Drives Aquatic Facility Plans

By Daniel P. Smith


The Move to Recreational Water

With a greater shift over to recreational water, aquatic facilities have increasingly evaded the standard rectangular box,

a product burdened with little entertainment value, only modest cost recovery and high maintenance costs.

"People can only swim so many laps before getting bored out of their mind, so there's been a consistent move toward a venue for splashing around and playing, which has a greater appeal to the bulk of the community and helps subsidize the cost of the pool," said Randy Mendioroz, president of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Aquatic Design Group.

In 1994, Mendioroz recalls the City of Vista, Calif., opening The Wave, a then-revolutionary project costing $3.9 million. With a lazy river, four waterslides and an oversized children's play structure, the facility ushered in a new era for public aquatic centers and served as a pioneering example for the recreational water movement. Current estimates hold that the facility makes approximately $300,000 each year.

The University of Texas at Austin, one of the nation's largest public universities, modeled its student aquatic center after the Grand Cypress Orlando resort. Such a college campus-based complex, with its spa, wireless Internet and poolside cafe, would have been unthinkable just one decade ago.

"[Private] waterparks were designed as facilities to make money, so you're seeing people take those lessons and applying them to the public sector," Mendioroz said.

Now, recreational waters are the standard, not the exception, a trend unlikely to fade. While competitive, rectangular pools retain their place and purpose, they are being edged out in an increasingly strict dollars-and-cents argument.

"If cost recovery is part of the equation, which it is for a great deal of facilities," Mendioroz said, "then you need to provide more recreational water than competitive water. There's simply no way around it."

Spraygrounds are one particular aquatic element that has risen in popularity in recent years. Requiring fewer staff, available for a longer season of use, and often placed away from the pool to limit safety concerns, spraygrounds have discernible and cost-effective benefits.

"The operational advantages are clear, and that's why we're seeing [spraygrounds] rise in popularity," LaLonde said.

In the coming years, Whiteaker foresees an integration of electronics and aquatics. From electronic pods, patrons will play video games such as Guitar Hero or enjoy entertainment from the Nintendo Wii series.

"This concept feeds into the growing understanding that there need to be zones and activities for all ages," Whiteaker said.

In some cases, aquatic facilities are seeking outside partnerships to generate income, an opportunity driving both new construction and renovation projects.

"We're seeing design move toward more multi-functional spaces that can accommodate different tenants, such as wellness groups or physical therapy," Whiteaker said. "This crossover impact is going to be central to aquatic facilities moving forward."