Feature Article - July 2013
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Jumping Off the Deep End

Daring Trends in Aquatic Facility Design

By Kelli Anderson

Extreme Themes

One way aquatic facilities are differentiating themselves more these days is with theming. Again, this is not a new idea and has been around for years, but what has changed is the extreme to which facilities are now willing to go to make an impact. Gone are the days when a simple Caribbean or jungle theme was enough to put your facility on the destination map. According to Hester, unless a theme is particularly unique, facilities are more interested in spending their dollars on quality softscapes (landscaping, fencing and shade structures that if done right, are great rental and revenue generators), than to bother with another been-there-done-that kind of themed design.

But if a park is going for theming, Hester advises that it be unique. For Wings and Waves Water Park in McMinnville, Ore., extreme theming has reached all new heights. Part of a larger attraction of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, the waterpark's aviation theme is front and center with a circa 1970s B747-100 aircraft perched on the top of the 70,000-square-foot waterpark. Through it, visitors are launched on a series of tube slides that wind around the cavernous interior. "It's pretty unique," Hester said of the park built in 2011. "At the top of the tower, you are inside the plane. It's super cool. And the tipping bucket structure is a helicopter."


What is also tipping the aquatic recreation industry toward change, however, is the enforcement of ADA regulations that finally went into effect on Jan. 31 of this year. Until now, aquatic facilities were strongly encouraged to design and install equipment that would enable those with disabilities to access their pools. And while some certainly did that—those like the Stephens Family YMCA embracing the spirit of the ADA in every way—others have been slow to respond. But now, with threat of enforcement hanging overhead, schools, universities, municipalities and even hotels are not only adding lifts, a sloped entry, transfer walls, a transfer system or accessible pool stairs, but are taking this opportunity to kill several birds with one stone.

"The technology has been there for 20 years and a lift is not rocket science, but what has increased the number of calls for evaluations of existing facilities is the ADA just went through and it has brought awareness," Matzke said of his company's sharp increase in requests for evaluations. "People just went along saying, 'Our facility is fine,' and whether they were correct or incorrect, the ADA laws are directing how people are supposed to provide for disability."

However, many schools and municipalities scrambling to comply with the ADA laws are realizing that this is an opportunity to address several improvements at once. "People are considering adding a beach entry pool and saying they can get ADA compliance but also a nice play area if they just invest in a few geysers. It looks nice. They do some other cleanup, and it will increase usage," Matzke explained of many clients' rationale. "So if they have to upgrade, they are trying to see how much they can accomplish with it."

What is so tragic about this approach, however, is the assumption many facility owners have that such accommodations are not needed because they do not see many (if any) patrons with disabilities coming to their facilities, and they tend to make the assumption that any attempt to be accommodating will come with a needlessly high price tag.