Water, Water Everywhere
Designing Flexible Pools
By Dave Ramont
Make It Fun & Flexible
What other kinds of things are owner/operators looking for in new pool designs? Caron said it's simple: fun.
He explained how municipal aquatic centers—as well as smaller, private operators—are interested in providing some of the excitement of waterparks in their smaller venues. "This can range from themed play structures, to slides and climbing walls, to video boards, to river currents and vortexes and anything in between."
Comstock said operators are also looking for flexibility and multiple-use options; the more a facility can offer the community and various swim groups, the better. "Most casual patrons want a multitude of activities within the pool facility, which will ultimately lead to more dollars brought into their complex."
Other simple amenities that can be added to an old-fashioned 50-meter pool to inject a little more pizzazz include zip lines, diving boards and jumping platforms. Spraygrounds are ideal for attracting families, provided you have the deck space. Water volleyball, water basketball, water polo and underwater hockey are inexpensive additions combining recreation and competition, with some facilities hosting leagues or tournaments. Other facilities have found success using temporary features, such as inflatable obstacle courses, which could be set up during times when lap swimmers or exercise groups aren't as likely to be using the pool.
But, as Whiteaker pointed out, those inflatables do require extra effort to unpack, inflate, install, deflate, dry off, patch, store, etc. Therefore, some indoor facilities are looking at retractable components that go up into the ceiling. "So now you push a button and—much like doing a gym set-up where you have retractable basketball goals and volleyball nets—you can do that with these types of retractable courses."
Whiteaker explained how some swim coaches are installing climbing ropes or chinning bars into the pool that retract from the ceiling, since they're always looking for ways to make training more fun and less monotonous. Others may add retractable basketball goals to play basketball on inner tubes, or maybe they'll play water polo off of surfboards. "Now you're still using the same kinds of muscles, and it's also transferrable to recreational uses."
Just Like New Again
There are many reasons a facility chooses to undergo a renovation. Whiteaker calls these "rejuvenations," and said it could be as simple as maintenance or code upgrades. Or perhaps the pool is a "little tired" and has lost market appeal. "So in that rejuvenation mode, it's either an expansion of their core amenities, or it's a repurposing of their facility venue to make it relevant to today's desires and market demands."
Sometimes this means subtracting instead of adding. For example, Whiteaker said some parts of the country are going to almost year-round school, making it harder to secure lifeguards. "So they've actually looked at their pools and they've scaled back water to add things like splash pads to appeal to younger users, that don't require the amount of lifeguards for safety."
Comstock said that a majority of his company's projects involve renovation, since it's a way for communities to save money and time while enhancing their facility. "So many times older pools are one-dimensional," he said. "Renovations, while providing savings, allow for pool expansion and added play areas and features."
The other added benefit is updating to meet current codes and compliances. "It's imperative that patrons are safe, and renovations allow the opportunity to modernize their facility," Comstock added.
Pottawatomie Pool opened in St. Charles, Ill., in 1938—championed by Park Board member Algert Swanson at a time when public improvement projects could mean the difference between success and failure to a community, post-Depression. The pool underwent a major renovation in 2011, re-opening under the name Swanson Pool.
Holly Cabel, director of Parks and Recreation, and Rosie Fasching, aquatics supervisor at the St. Charles Park District, shared some insights into the renovation, which was in response to both community and aquatic surveys.
"The survey information was used to work on outlining the changes necessary to address community needs in the facility, operations and programming. The next step was to develop cost estimations for the desired changes," they said. This information was then used to educate the community when the park district went to a referendum, which was successful.
Swanson Pool already consisted of two separate pools—a shallower pool for younger users, and a larger, deeper pool with lap lanes and diving boards. In the large pool, specific amenities were added to attract older youths, such as drop slides, deck water cannons and a pad walk. From the surveys, it was understood that the community felt strongly about keeping the lap lanes and diving boards, and the staff was aware that these amenities were not often found in newly developed waterparks and, therefore, would be great components to keep in the newly-designed pool. "We also knew that we had a huge advantage of having a fair amount of deep water—also not found in many waterparks—so we wanted to use that to our advantage for recreational open-swim as well as rental opportunities," according to Cabel and Fasching.