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Feature Article - May 2017

Evolving Aquatics

Trends in Municipal Aquatic Facility Design

By Deborah L. Vence


You don't necessarily have to go far to find a top-notch aquatic facility. Many municipalities today offer aquatic centers that mimic larger waterparks, equipped with popular features such as drop slides, lazy rivers and lily pad walks. Families can experience almost a mini vacation, you might say, with the opportunity to take their children all summer long to swim in the pool and zip down winding waterslides.

"Municipal facilities are becoming much more advanced than the simple town pool of yesteryear with a couple of diving boards and maybe a slide or two. Innovative, first-to-market attractions are becoming more commonplace as municipalities begin to embrace the waterpark model of offering excitement and entertainment to their members," said Jessica Mahoney, marketing manager at Aquatic Development Group, a Cohoes, N.Y.-based company that specializes in waterpark design and construction.

"Dual-entry wave pools, boogie boarding surf pool rides—both were first implemented at municipal parks," she said.

The fact is that the modern aquatic center has increased in popularity and use. "This increase is attributed to the expansion of programs, services and amenities that appeal to a wider range of the population," said Dennis Berkshire, president of Aquatic Design Group, a full-service aquatic architecture and engineering firm based in Carlsbad, Calif. "It is also attributed to an increase in health and fitness lifestyles and an ever-aging population that is well suited to aquatics activities."

The Latest

One of the latest trends in municipal aquatic facility design includes specialized areas to serve specific programs—areas designed for water play, fitness and exercise, competition and lessons.

"For example, [an area] within the deeper water to support inflatable water play is a popular feature in modern aquatic centers," Berkshire said.

"Swim lessons are typically the greatest source of revenue for a municipal swimming pool, so pool configurations that can support this are important," he said. "Waterpark amenities are also popular to better serve recreation programs and facility rentals."

With multi-programmable water, municipalities benefit from bodies of water that can be used for a variety of activities—"opportunities for leisure, exercise, rehab, competition—all happening in the same body of water (as much as possible)," said Tom LaLonde, AIA, LEED AP, vice president and managing principal, Williams Architects/Aquatics, an Itasca, Ill.-based architectural firm that specializes in municipal, recreational, residential and commercial design and construction.

"Current channels are very popular. By nature, building and operating lazy rivers can be cost-prohibitive. Offering some form of water movement in a smaller feature provides the fun more economically. Current channels can also be used for exercise, as well as gathering spaces," LaLonde said.

In addition, you can make use of existing spaces for waterslides. "Waterslides that don't require a dedicated body of water makes them more flexible and cost-effective, yet just as fun," he added.

Municipal facilities are becoming much more advanced than the simple town pool of yesteryear with a couple of diving boards and maybe a slide or two.

In some cases, aging swimming pools are being replaced with spray pads.

"Spray pads provide dynamic, zero-depth aquatic fun for the entire family. Elements typically combine various types of water features—flowing, misting, spraying and jetting—offering patrons an immersive aquatic experience, at much lower maintenance, operating and staffing costs," said George Sells, AIA, director, creative studio, Water Technology Inc. (WTI), a Beaver Dam, Wis.-based architectural firm that specializes in planning, design and engineering qualifications in the waterpark industry.

LaLonde agreed. "Spray pads are continuing to evolve and offer opportunities for very young to older children. Many manufacturers now offer customization of features to better meet client wishes," he said. "The newer spray pads typically are located on continually draining decks so that the spray features are not in a standing body of water, thus not requiring certified guards. By separating this area with a fence, it allows for a longer, extended season."

Municipalities now are building aquatic facilities incorporating many of the features and attractions of private waterparks. "Interactive multilevel play structures, wave pools and waterslides are becoming essential to the success of new municipal developments," Sells said, adding that other trends he sees include restroom and changing facilities that are being updated with improved finishes, ventilation and lighting.

Also, "Patrons are seeing better foodservice options, as well as small retail venues."

In addition, "Shade has become increasingly important to skin care, and municipalities are responding with abundant shade structures and umbrellas. Overall, patron accommodations are constantly being improved," Sells said.

Miklos Valdez, project manager at Counsilman-Hunsaker, an aquatic engineering and design firm in St. Louis, said he sees "zero beach entries with shallow water being a top priority as well as other play features like slides, crossing activities, children's play structures and climbing walls."

Crossing activities are installations that have floatables underneath a rope or cargo net. They are sometimes referred to as lily pad walks, as well.

"Children use the rope or net to … walk across the floatables from one side of the pool to the other," Valdez explained. "It's a challenging activity that engages balance, strength and coordination, but is really just fun."

What's more, climbing walls are very popular right now.

"Climbing walls are easy to add to an existing facility at a reasonable cost when considering the popularity," said Rich Klarck, lead aquatic engineer at Williams Architects.

To boot, slides are becoming more interactive with lighting and "racing slides" with timed events. Users can "race" one another, and try to beat the best time.

"Small play features/structures are continually becoming more interactive, focusing on social interaction and learning for the younger/toddler-aged children," Klarck said.

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