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Supplement Feature - February 2013

Buoyed by Innovation

New Aquatic Design Trends Offer a Sea of Options

By Chris Gelbach


Recreation for All

In the expansion of a long-term trend, more and more aquatic facilities are being built to balance recreation with competitive elements. "Usually we'd have to drag the cities kicking and screaming into the recreation side of things because it's tougher from a maintenance and operations standpoint," said Mendioroz. "But now we're preaching to the converted, and parks and recreation folks are embracing the idea that there should be at least as many square feet of recreation programming as competitive programming."

California's Riverside County Parks district did this recently with its Jurupa Aquatic Center, which is divided into two sections: a 35-meter by 25-yard competition pool, and The Cove Waterpark, which includes a splash playground, continuous river, slide tower and a surf machine.

According to Kyla Brown, parks and recreation chief for Riverside County Parks, the competition pool addresses a previous lack of aquatics programs and public pool facilities in the area. Since opening, the competition pool has been jam-packed. "The high schools have taken over almost every available hour for swimming, and we've got a couple of club teams, as well," said Brown.

Despite this fact, the pool faces an issue common even to the busiest competition pools. "Competition pools are an important part of an aquatic center, but I am personally not familiar with one that pays for itself," said Cloward. "They're always subsidized."

When the Jurupa facility, created in partnership with a nearby school district, was in the planning stages, feasibility studies indicated that the competition pool alone might not be viable to operate over time. "And the answer was the waterpark portion," Brown said. "In terms of revenue generation, it recovers its full cost and then some." The gate receipts from people who want the waterpark experience are then used to help offset the costs of the community programming on the competition pool side.

That's not to say that the waterpark isn't used for community activities. Instead, in an example of another burgeoning trend, the use of the recreation side in off-peak hours is being maximized through community engagement and programming. This is particularly important for The Cove, which caters to families with young children and gets 75 percent of its business from patrons with season passes.

"We focus on keeping it new and exciting for our customers through the soft services and programming," said Brown. "Special events, special activities, programs geared toward youth and life skill development—other benefits you wouldn't typically get at your recreational waterpark."

Examples of programming that takes place in the waterpark include a junior lifeguarding program, adaptive swim lessons, water walking for seniors in the continuous river, water rescue courses for park rangers and special events, such as a polar bear plunge that takes place over the holidays.

Most designers consider the focus on young families that The Cove has selected as a solid approach for most municipalities launching a waterpark. "Unless you're going to put in some of the bigger rides, your target is not teenagers," said Cloward. "You still have to think of something for them to do, because otherwise they'll get in the way. But in terms of who's driving gate receipts, it's 12 and under. And the kids' pool has become the thing that's really being amped up."

According to Cloward, this can be accomplished using premanufactured play structures, or ones that are built more into the landscape. "But it's got to be a multilevel, multiactivity type of thing," he said. "A little shallow wading pool isn't worth the money."

For teens, competitive programs hold appeal, as do skill-based activities, such as the surf machine at The Cove. "If one thing seems to be trickling down from the waterpark market, it's a skill-based attraction," said Roderick. "The one that's coming down more and more is surfing. A FlowRider is not a high-capacity ride, but it's something they will come back to as they learn that skill, and they have to come back to the facility to do it."

This kind of amenity does not take up a lot of real estate, but can cost almost as much as having another pool, according to Roderick. And while it can't accommodate many riders, it does produce retail and spectator appeal. "People come to watch it, they're buying food, they're buying drinks, they may buy a T-shirt," said Roderick. At The Cove, for example, the facility last summer hosted some of the world's best flowboarders as a stop on the FLOW Tour.