Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook
By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping
When recreation managers put public restrooms in a remote location, they often do so with their fingers crossed. There are so many variables—weather, vandalism, etc.—that could bring harm to the building. While those concerns are understandable, they need not overshadow the restrooms' purpose.
With the right facility, all these cares will melt away. Here's how to do it:
Q: We'd like to put a public restroom in a remote part of our forest preserve. How can we get one without the high cost and long lead times often associated with a tailored architectural design?
A: A pre-engineered public facility is probably your best bet. With design help from the building's manufacturer, a wide variety of styles and features are available to tailor the building to fit just about any site or situation.
Q: What are the major design concerns when selecting a pre-fabricated building?
A: Major design concerns include building size, fixtures and hardware, accessibility, vandal-resistance and ease of maintenance. Aesthetic appeal and flexibility of function are also key considerations.
Q: How can I make sure it blends into the surroundings?
A: The industry produces several pre-engineered buildings in colors and textures that blend easily into their natural environment. Textures like cedar shake, exposed aggregate and barnwood work wonderfully in wooded areas.
Q: I hate to disrupt the natural habitat for just a restroom. Can I incorporate any other uses into the building?
A: Absolutely. Parks often need the building housing public restrooms to serve multiple purposes. Pre-engineered restroom manufacturers offer design services to craft a durable multiuse facility with additional space for showers and dressing rooms, concession booths and outdoor covered shelters, equipment storage and mechanical rooms, and even office space.
Q: How do I protect my building from the elements?
A: Select materials that can withstand inclement weather. The industry offers buildings that can withstand heavy winds, high snow loads and zone-4 earthquakes. If you live in a region susceptible to these conditions, make sure your buildings can handle it.
Q: Given the restroom's remote location, I won't be able to watch it as carefully as I'd like. What steps do I need to take to keep the building vandalism-free?
A: The best defense against vandalism is selecting the right building and materials. Concrete structures, for example, easily withstand the rigors of vandalism. Brick and wood, meanwhile, are more vulnerable during the graffiti-removal process. Dark, rough surfaces deter vandals because their work will not be as visible, thus denying them the thrill of seeing their crime on display. Regardless of the building type, all outdoor structures should be covered with a protective coating that allows graffiti to be expunged without damaging the paint or surfaces beneath. Inside the building, you may want to consider installing ceramic tile or coated concrete from floor to ceiling.
Q: How can I prevent graffiti once the restroom is installed?
A: Once the properly coated building has been installed, recreation managers must maintain their vigilance. Make sure it's hard to reach the exterior walls. Use clinging plants such as ivy to break up writing space and make the wall hard to reach. Installing lights and landscaping in the area in front of the wall provides strong barriers. Keep the restroom clean to avoid a neglected appearance that invites vandalism. If graffiti does appear, it should be removed as quickly as possible.
Recreation managers waiting for the skateboard and inline frenzy to fade must rethink their strategies. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, skateboarding's popularity grew by 16.5 percent in 2005, while inline skating jumped by 12.4 percent. If you don't have a park, or you want to add to your existing facility, here are some tips to help get your wheels rolling.
Q: My community is building a skatepark. Who should be part of the planning process?
A: Your team should include community leaders, a structural engineer, a landscape engineer and a skatepark designer or manufacturer with a solid reputation. It also wouldn't hurt to have a skilled fundraiser in your group to help defray the project's cost. Above all else, however, include actual skaters in your planning process. They are the ones who will use the facility, so make sure you're building something they would enjoy.
Q: We have a mixture of skateboarding talent in the community. How do we design a park that seems fresh and inviting to all these groups?
A: Diversity is key. The most appealing skateparks mix myriad elements, including ramps, quarter pipes, street course elements and half pipes. To keep skaters challenged, put the ramps, obstacles and rails at varying heights and angles.
Q: How do I avoid design mistakes that will hurt my park's attendance?
A: Nothing kills a skatepark quicker than directional flow. Skaters must be able to move from one feature to the next with as minimal foot propulsion (pushing) as possible. Cramming the elements together, however, can make parks even less user-friendly. When arranging elements, it's also important to make sure there aren't skill-level conflicts in areas of your park. Fortunately, these matters shouldn't fall squarely on your shoulders. A good skatepark designer or manufacturer will help you navigate these tricky areas.
Q: How can I make sure skaters don't become bored with the park's design?
A: One option would be modular systems, which can be reconfigured as desired. Smaller elements like grind boxes and highway barriers can be moved easily by maintenance crews every month. Or plan for expansion and add new elements in another year or two.
Q: There's no denying the popularity of skateboarding in our town. But we can't afford a massive park. What can we do?
A: These are tough economic times, especially for the recreation industry. Don't let that deter you. A basic park can cost as little as $15,000 to $25,000 for construction and equipment, a reasonable price given the programming opportunities it can provide. If you're looking for a higher-end facility—which can cost $200,000 or more—consider a partnership with a private business, a local school or church. Be sure to seek out grants that could help cover the project's cost, as well.
Q: Beyond the skatepark basics, what other amenities do I need to be thinking about?
A: A skatepark cannot survive on ramps and half pipes alone. Be sure to include creature comforts like spectator seating, shade elements, water fountains, vending machines, restrooms, pay phones and concession stands. These amenities will make the park a more accommodating place for skaters and their families.
Q: How can I make sure people know about my skatepark?
A: You can't rely on the old "Field of Dreams" cliché that if you build it, they will come. There are a lot things competing for a skateboarder's time and attention. Consider a Web-based marketing campaign that includes e-mail blasts with coupons and other special offers.
Nearly 100 years after one of the first drinking fountains was created from a brass bed knob, innovations still abound, making it easier to clean and maintain these watering holes. Providing park patrons with a place to get a drink is essential, but if drinking fountains are not properly maintained, visitors will be turned off by what they perceive as unsanitary conditions. In outdoor spaces, maintenance involves everything from cleaning and sanitizing to closing up shop for the winter, if necessary.
Q: What steps can we take to ensure all drinking fountains at all of our sites are working properly?
A: Set up a maintenance schedule. An employee should be checking on each of your fountains on a regular basis to ensure they are clean and functioning properly. When a major event is taking place, these maintenance checks should be more frequent. Make a checklist: Is the fountain functioning properly? Is the water flow just right? Finally, clean and sanitize the fountain.
Q: How can I ensure the drinking fountain is clean and sanitary?
A: Patrons equate cleanliness with the quality of the water, so you're right to want to ensure your drinking fountains are spotless. First of all, you need to adjust the water stream when you install the fountain. It should be at least 3 inches away from the bubbler. This keeps people from touching the parts of the fountain with their mouths when they get a drink.
Next, you need to make sure drinking fountains are cleaned on a regular basis. This should be part of your regular maintenance check. Spray a disinfectant cleaning solution on the fountain pieces and then use a grout brush to scrub the mouthpiece and protective guard. Depending on your location, you also may need to remove lime buildup, using a descaler.
Q: We don't have enough staff to provide the regular maintenance our drinking fountains need. Is there any way to keep the fountain clean without sending someone out with soap and a scrub brush?
A: One handy way to ensure your bubbler remains clean is to purchase one of the newer drinking fountain models that protect the bubbler head from exposure and contamination. When someone presses the button, the water pressure forces a shield up that exposes the bubbler head. Once the button is released, the water pressure drops, and the shield lowers to encase the bubbler.
Q: Our drinking fountains typically have to be shut down from November through March, or the pipes are liable to burst. Are there any options that will allow us to provide park patrons with drinking water year-round?
A: Warm-weather parks departments don't have to worry about the freezes that come with winter weather. But if you live in the colder parts of the country, you likely are draining the water lines and keeping the water turned off during the winter months.
You should consider purchasing a drinking fountain that is freeze-protected. There are several ways a freeze-protected fountain can operate, but the most recent innovation is a buried valve that keeps water below the frost line.
Some of these models will drain the water below the frost line as soon as the button on the fountain is released. In areas where this is not allowed due to sanitary and building codes, look to newer models that do not drain water into the ground. Instead, these models hold the water below the frost line until another person comes up to push the button and get a drink. As their drinking water comes up, the former patron's waste water is put into the drain.
When visitors come to your parks, you want them to be impressed enough to come back. Nothing can turn off patrons more than poor upkeep—whether it's graffiti-coated bathroom walls or sticky fingerprints on playground equipment. And in an ever-building spiral, the more run-down you let your facility become, the more likely vandals and other nefarious characters will further deface your property. Here's what you need to know to keep your site in mint condition.
Q: It seems we're always playing catch-up with site maintenance. How can we be more proactive?
A: Don't wait until your parks and facilities are in disarray to take action. Make a plan that addresses daily, weekly, monthly and yearly upkeep. This can involve such tasks as checking for burnt-out light bulbs, washing away graffiti, making repairs, cleaning surfaces and so on. Give all of the employees who will handle these tasks a laminated copy of the list, and be sure to include the required equipment and instructions, if necessary. Also, whoever's in charge should perform a regular "official" inspection, just to be sure all problems are being addressed.
Q: Our park always seems to be full of litter. How can we keep things cleaner?
A: Aside from creating the regular checklist, you should train your employees to keep things clean as they work. Staff can pick up garbage as they attend to their daily duties, ensuring that things stay neater. Any major cleaning of your facility can take place at night. That way, patrons are less likely to be disrupted. As an added benefit, your nighttime presence will discourage vandals.
Q: We have a problem with graffiti artists and other vandals. What can we do to stop them?
A: Remove the graffiti as soon as possible. According to the Keep America Beautiful campaign, when you remove graffiti within two days of its appearance, you'll get virtually no reoccurrence. On the other hand, if you leave it there for two weeks, you'll see a near 100 percent reoccurrence rate.
To help your staff, cover bathroom walls, park benches and other commonly graffitied surfaces with a protective coating, such as a clear coating. This makes things much easier to clean up. Newer clear coats are available that allow you to use a solvent to get rid of the graffiti without ruining the paint underneath or the clear coat itself.
Q: We don't have a lot of staff or money to devote to maintenance. How can we reduce wear and tear, as well as the need to perform regular maintenance?
A: First of all, you can select surfaces and site furnishings that don't require as much upkeep. Wood surfaces, for example, often need to be repainted or restained.
Another option is to protect your purchases from the elements and from everyday wear and tear. Clear-coating a protective finish on components like playground equipment, picnic tables, trash receptacles and shelter walls can solve many issues—from sun and other weather damage to the need for regular repainting.
Some clear coat options on the market have UV inhibitors, making them ideal for outdoor use. Constant sun exposure will not fade the paint beneath, keeping surfaces looking freshly painted.
In addition, by reducing the need for harsh cleaning chemicals, clear coats can help protect your workers from exposure to potentially dangerous materials. It also makes their jobs easier, by making surfaces more cleanable.
Even better, they won't have to repaint everything in the park on a yearly basis. Some clear coats have demonstrated an ability to withstand harsh environments—from the sea coast to the penetrating Florida sun—for as long as a decade.
According to a recent survey from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, 91 percent of Americans believe that exercising at a health club would improve their overall health, but only 18 percent of those surveyed actually belong to a health club. Health club managers know that getting people into the club and keeping them as members can be major challenges. By creating fresh new ways to get people involved in exercise, you can create and maintain a healthier—and more profitable—relationship with your members.
Q: At our small fitness club, we offer all of the typical equipment—treadmills, stairclimbers and elliptical machines. How can we expand our offerings to create more excitement among our members?
A: Taking your workout options beyond the basics can offer your members more variety. And by offering a greater variety of machines and workout classes, you can attract more potential members as well as keep your regulars coming back for more. For example, indoor rowing machines can offer a great low-impact workout for the entire body. Members can work out individually, or you can offer group classes. Rowing might also appeal to older members, since it's impact-free, due to the seated nature of the motion.
Q: Our members love our Spinning classes. Are there other types of group classes we can offer on our exercise equipment?
A: Absolutely. Many club members like to take part in group exercise because belonging to a group of exercisers may make them feel more accountable to show up for their workout. In addition to the ever-popular Spinning classes, you might consider offering group classes on other machines. Group rowing classes are popular all around the country in regular fitness clubs, as part of school programs and within YMCAs.
If you plan to offer a group rowing class, consider finding a certified rowing coach. Or, if you have several instructors at your club who are interested, it might be worthwhile to bring in an instructor to train them to earn their own certification. An added benefit for them: These classes may be recognized as continuing education credits. Check to be sure the instruction is recognized by the American Council on Exercise.
Q: Many of our members are interested in high-tech options that allow them to track their workouts and measure their improvements. Should we consider upgrading our offerings?
A: In this day and age, people are accustomed to "plugging in" for everything from paying bills to downloading music to maintaining their fitness levels. You can find many pieces of exercise equipment these days that allow members to track their heart rates as well as their improvement. In addition, many pieces of cardio equipment now come with software that provides an interactive gaming experience. Some of these games offer a means to get all ages involved in working out on the equipment. Many vendors also allow exercisers to log onto their Web sites and track their times, competing with others around the world.
Q: What programming can we offer to get members excited about using our new equipment?
A: Many cardio equipment vendors now go beyond simply setting up the equipment in your gym. They now offer continuing support through programming suggestions and training and certification for your instructors. Some vendors offer challenges to help motivate club members to improve their fitness. Whether it's by logging into a Web site to record their times and improvements—and compare their scores with exercisers around the world—or it's a team challenge that takes place in the gym, there are many ways to get your members excited about coming back to your facility.
Site furnishings can help turn an average space into a very special place. Selecting the perfect elements, however, can be a bit daunting. Here are some of the toughest questions you'll face—along with their relatively easy answers.
Q: We're about to begin the planning process for a new park. When should we start thinking about furnishings?
A: Right now. Site furnishings and amenities need to be a strategic part of the design plan from the very beginning with a budgeted line item all their own. Relegating furnishings and amenities to the end of the process could likely result in a beautiful but empty park.
Q: Are there any hard-and-fast rules about bench placement?
A: Regardless of style or building material, the rules about bench placement remain the same: Locate a bench near something, visually anchoring it to a place with a substantial planter, a decorative wall or beautiful landscaping. Placing seating in an easily visible area offers a sense of security and reduces vandalism, vagrancy and loitering.
Q: There are some different types of materials out there. Which should I use?
A: It depends on what you're looking for. Every material has its own benefits and drawbacks. Recyclable materials, for example, are environmentally friendly, vandalism-resistant and require little maintenance. Their heavy construction makes them tough to steal, but it also makes them difficult to move.
Q: When it comes to park furnishings, we've historically bought in bulk. Is this the way to go?
A: Many parks departments prefer bulk purchases, which can make finding replacement parts easy and reduces manpower.
It also helps ensure that everything purchased follows certain codes (like the Americans with Disabilities Act) and can withstand the local elements. This will give you a cohesive look, but don't let it be your only option. It may eliminate the hodgepodge appearance of some communities, but it also may give your park a boring, tedious look.
Q: How much should we spend on park furnishings for a medium-sized park?
A: When determining your budget, remember that even similar-sized parks will have differing budgets based on themes, historical demands and the venue's goals. If you are challenged by such places, it would be beneficial to use a landscape architect or a civic organization like People for Public Spaces. They both can provide expert advice—particularly in places with programming challenges—to create highly functional parks.
Q: We need new water fountains. What do I need to consider?
A: When choosing this absolute necessity, consider the ease of installation, ease of cleaning, durability and safety to the user. In areas with heavy traffic, it's also a good idea to purchase a fountain made from vandalism-resistant materials.
Q: How can we ensure our park is truly accessible?
A: Ensuring park accessibility often means going beyond ADA requirements. First, select sight furnishings everyone can use, instead of installing a few handicap-accessible chairs and tables. At campsites, select fire rings and grills that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
Q: We have a beautiful nature trail that we don't want to disrupt with unsightly garbage cans. What are our options?
A: In bucolic settings, the last thing people want to think about is trash. But if recreation managers make garbage the last thing they consider, it'll be the first thing patrons notice.
Trash cans and recycling receptacles with muted colors such as browns and greens often blend in best with their surroundings. In campsites or large open areas, animal-proof receptacles make good sense. Park planners also should be careful not to place trash cans and recycling bins too close to picnic areas. Trash cans attracts bees and other insects, which can make the experience unpleasant for patrons. Your best bet is to put them at least 10 to 25 feet away from seating areas.
For indoor aquatic facilities, there are no two bigger concerns than air and water quality. Left unmanaged, substantial harm can be done to both equipment and patrons. The best defense is an industrial UV system that will control chloramines and, as a bonus, disinfect chlorine-resistant pathogens.
Q: I keep hearing about UV systems. How, exactly, would one help my pool?
A: Ultraviolet (UV) light provides a non-chemical, environmentally friendly treatment option for indoor pools and spas. Most microorganisms, even cryptosporidium and giardia, are inactivated in less than a second by relatively low doses of UV light. Additionally, UV will break down organic and inorganic pollutants in water. This is particularly true in the swimming pool industry, where a significant reduction in combined chlorine, known as chloramines, can be achieved.
Q: What causes chloramines?
A: Chloramines, or combined chlorine, are the result of chlorine and bathers interacting. They are regulated by law and are the single largest daily headache for aquatic directors at indoor facilities.
Q: Why should I be worried about chloramines?
A: Chloramines let off gas into the air, then saturate back into the condensation on your air handler and deck equipment. They are corrosive to not only the building, but humans as well. Controlling chloramines will remove the odor and irritation, thus making the environment healthier and more enjoyable.
Q: What are the side effects of human exposure to chloramines? Am I putting my employees at risk without a UV system?
A: To put it simply, yes. Chloramines can compromise your employees' and patrons' health. They cause a noxious vapor that blankets the pool and wreaks havoc on those nearby. They have caused athletic asthma in competitive swimmers. Studies show that aquatic managers have developed allergies from prolonged exposure and have been forced to leave the industry. Aquatic therapists have reported a loss of body hair due to the damage chloramines have caused to hair follicles. Once UV systems were installed, those same therapists reported that the hair returned.
Q: Can you tell me more about the system?
A: The UV system is comprised of a power control cabinet and a treatment chamber. The treatment chamber is basically a large pipe with one or more UV lamps inside. The lamps are isolated from the water by a quartz sleeve. The sleeve protects the lamp and allows it to operate optimally. The quartz sleeve can develop deposits from the organics in the water. An automatic internal wiper mechanism keeps the sleeves free of deposits. A UV monitor registers lamp output to assure you that the system is providing the energy required.
Q: What kind of infrastructure is needed?
A: Not much, fortunately. Basic electrical service must be run to the cabinet. Basic plumbing is required for the chamber. Installation can take as little as six hours, but it's best to schedule a full day. The wires and connectors from the chamber to the cabinet are supplied with the systems. It is recommended that a factory-trained technician make these connections and commission the system. As with any machinery, a vast majority of future problems can be avoided by installing the system properly.
Q: How much maintenance does a UV system require?
A: UV systems are self-monitoring and self-cleaning. Maintenance is limited to once or twice a year. UV proactively and continuously reduces the chloramines in the filtered water. During periods of high bather load, the chloramines will still be formed but they will not climb anywhere near previous highs.
If you spend countless hours making sure your pool and deck area are safe havens for patrons, please give yourself a hand. Just don't clap too long. You still might have some work to do. In addition to making sure your pool and spa are well-kept, injury-free zones, your locker rooms also must be safe places for patrons. Thankfully, with a little forethought—and help from modern-day technology, such as a swimsuit water extractor—it's not hard to do.
Q: What's the number-one threat to my locker room?
A: Nothing threatens locker rooms like excess water. Slick floors increase the chances of patrons slipping and hurting themselves. And, as recreation managers know too well in this litigation-happy time, injuries can become legal (not to mention financial) nightmares.
Q: Why can't I just post signage that says "Slippery when wet"? After all, it's next to a pool and has a steam room. Shouldn't patrons expect the floors to be a little damp?
A: Of course they should. But safety isn't the only reason to keep your locker room floors dry. Wet floors can do serious damage to your locker room. They can cause rust, mildew, warping, wood delamination, peeling paint and corrosion. Not only do these conditions make your locker room unappealing to users, they threaten the area's fixtures and foundation as well.
Q: I don't have a lot of money to revamp my locker room. Is there something quick, easy and affordable that I can do?
A: Yes. Install a swimsuit water extractor, which can remove up to 95 percent of the suit's moisture in 10 seconds. These machines—which cost between $1,300 and $1,400—will help keep soaked suits from dripping on your floor. They'll also keep lockers dry and odor-free.
In addition to saving your floors, your patrons will appreciate this easy-to-use amenity. They won't have to stand futilely in front of hand dryers for extended periods in hopes of drying their suits. The machines also reduce theft and the unsightly clutter of hanging suits.
Q: How difficult is it to install a suit dryer?
A: It's a snap. A typical 55-pound machine comes with a wall-mount bracket for hanging and a moisture-proof electrical junction box to be hard-wired to your electrical system. It also allows for water disposal to be directed to a floor drain or piped to the wastewater system.
Q: What about flooring?
A: You need to select flooring that is clean, sanitary and slip-resistant. The floor should also be able to tolerate constant exposure to water. In the case of shower flooring, it must be waterproof as well.
Bacteria can build up in tiled floors, so you might want to consider a seamless system. Some manufacturers even offer flooring with an anti-microbial additive that protects the floor from fungal staining, odor and inferior hygiene.
Q: Anything else I should do?
A: Make an effort to choose non-corrosive elements. This means finding the right grade of stainless steel, for example, not just the cheapest one available. The non-corrosive policy should extend to every facet of the facility. Even nuts, bolts, floor grates and drain covers should be treated against corrosion.
On the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act, signed into law in July 1990, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., released a call to action to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities. One of the four goals included in this statement was to increase awareness among the disabled of how they can develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is taking part in community and recreational events. With 54 million Americans—one in five people in the United States—living with at least one disability, it is critical to provide accessible parks. It's also the law.
Q: I want to be sure my site furnishings are ADA-compliant and wheelchair-accessible. What do I need to know?
A: When furnishing your park with benches, picnic tables and other components, you need to make sure you adhere to ADA rules.
To be wheelchair-accessible, a picnic table's knee space should allow a minimum of 27 inches in height, 30 inches in width and 19 inches in depth. Toe clearance must have a minimum 9-inch height and extend an additional 5-inch minimum from the knee clearance. Clear floor space must be a minimum of 30 inches by 48 inches, with one fully unobstructed side connected to an outdoor recreation route. The table clearance must have a minimum of 36 inches of clear floor or ground space surrounding the usable portion of the table, measured from the seat.
To ensure you purchase ADA-compliant components, just ask your vendor for some assistance. Most companies will be glad to help you find what you need, and will ensure it meets ADA specifications as well.
Q: We have a lot of site visitors who are handicapped. How can I be sure I'm placing benches and tables in the right place?
A: When you spend your budget dollars on site furnishings, you want to ensure they are used to their full potential. Putting benches and picnic tables in the right place can make or break their usage.
Don't place your benches and picnic tables too far off the beaten path. You'll attract graffiti artists and create mowing difficulties. More importantly, you'll make it difficult for handicapped patrons to reach these key gathering spots.
To help disabled patrons get to a spot to sit or picnic, be sure to place some benches and picnic tables along a cement or paved path.
Q: We've spent a lot of time and money ensuring that our park offers plenty of activities and components for patrons with disabilities. How can we let them know about what our site offers?
A: According to the National Organization on Disabilities, people who are disabled are twice as likely to avoid participating in their communities as people without disabilities. This includes such activities as attending sporting events and using recreation facilities. So, how can you encourage people to use your facility?
Post information about accessibility in a central location. Make a site map that points out accessible picnic and seating areas, as well as wheelchair-accessible paths. A visitor center, park office or even just a bulletin board located near the park entrance are all ideal places to post information about accessibility.
You can also publicize accessibility information through press releases and your general outreach. When you publicize your facility's special programs, be sure to include information about accessibility in your announcements. Also, go beyond print media to get the word out. By taking advantage of radio and television, you can reach a wider audience.
When it comes to parks, it shouldn't all be kidding around. Modern-day parks can—and should be—partners in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle for people of all ages. To that end, progressive recreation managers have turned to multigenerational facilities, where the entire family can enjoy the equipment and the benefits of exercise.
Q: What, exactly, is a multigenerational park?
A: You cannot build a multigenerational park until you understand what one isn't: It's not just a landscaped patch open to everyone. Rather, these parks provide unique and unusual outdoor physical activities to toddlers, children, teens, adults and seniors. They also create some passive leisure-time activities, such as walking and environmental education.
Q: What are the benefits of such a park? Why can't I stay with my children's playground?
A: Multigenerational parks are the wave of the future. These parks help combat obesity in all ages, provide children and teens with positive physical activities and give parents and grandparents an opportunity to exercise while spending quality time with their families.
Q: Why should I build a park that caters to seniors when they're not the most frequent users?
A: In addition to health benefits, multigenerational parks offer an excellent chance to plan for the future. U.S. Census Bureau statistics suggest that roughly 40 percent of the population will be older than 50 by the year 2030. The data also predict that the percentage of the population older than 65 will jump from the current 12 percent to 20 percent in the next 25 years. Recreation managers would be well-advised to address the needs of this growing and influential segment of the population while including activities for younger people too.
Q: What kind of active recreation should I provide for seniors?
A: Any park aimed at providing senior recreation should include walking paths or trails. Walking is an ideal fitness option for the elderly because it comes with low physical risks. The paths can be enhanced by adding equipment designed to provide fun and challenging activities to all users. The elements of the park should bolster social skills, as well as physical strength, balance and aerobic activity. The equipment—sometimes referred to as wellness stations—should offer patrons different challenge levels.
Q: What other elements should be included in a multigenerational park?
A: In addition to offering low-impact activities such as a walking path, consider installing features such as skateparks, playgrounds and climbing walls. Not only do these diversions appeal to younger patrons, they also provide fun recreation opportunities for young-at-heart adults who prefer a more high-energy workout. When selecting a climbing boulder or designing a skatepark, be sure both can be enjoyed by people with various skill and fitness levels.
Q: How can I make sure patrons take advantage of this type of park?
A: Once the park has been built, use programs that will draw in the community. Previous generations of fitness trails, climbing walls and skateparks have failed because they were designed for ultra-fit patrons and highly skilled users. Novices who attempted these elements used them without promotion or programming. Take the time to explain the park and trails to patrons and stress the all-ages approach to fitness. Introduce the path or climbing wall to users via contests and games that encourage usage. The multigenerational park is just that—grandparents, parents, young adults, teens and toddlers—fun for the entire family.
Dreading that time of the month when your heating bill arrives? You're not alone. Aquatics managers across the country are grappling with soaring heating costs. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy has studied the issue extensively and has come up with recommendations that could reduce energy costs by as much as 70 percent.
Q: Why are my bills so high?
A: The Department of Energy has found that water evaporation is the largest single source of over-consumption. It accounts for 70 percent of total energy lost in both outdoor and indoor pools. As evaporation goes, so goes much of the swimming pool's heat. For every gallon of water that evaporates, more than 8,500 BTUs are lost, too.
Q: How much water am I losing to evaporation?
A: A typical pool loses 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week. For a 1,000-square-foot pool, an inch equals 625 gallons or more than 50 therms of natural gas. (A therm is equal to 100,000 BTUs.) Given all the energy required to evaporate a gallon of water, this results in the pool losing 70 percent of its heat. Simply put, it's much more efficient to keep as much of the water you've already heated in the pool than to keep replacing lost heat.
Q: How can I prevent heat loss?
A: Covering your pool when it's not in use can be the single most effective thing you can do to reduce heating costs. In fact, industry estimates suggest that pool blankets can reduce heating costs by 50 to 70 percent. Pool covers also can reduce the amount of makeup water required by 30 to 50 percent, slash chemical consumption by as much as 60 percent and cut cleaning time by keeping dirt and debris out of the pool.
Q: Are the covers for nighttime use only?
A: It depends. Outdoor pools absorb 75 to 85 percent of the solar energy that strikes the pool surface. Some of this will be lost with the use of a pool cover. However, other environmental conditions—humidity, wind, overnight air temperatures and higher water temperatures—impact evaporation rates. These conditions need to be considered when determining whether or not to use a pool cover during the daytime.
Q: Are there any mechanical solutions for cutting energy costs?
A: High-efficiency pool heaters, electric heat pumps and properly sized pumps and motors can all save utility costs. In fact, motors often can recoup their costs in the first year with energy savings.
Q: What about alternative energy forms?
A: Solar-powered heating systems offer a legitimate way to lower operating costs. Solar energy is abundantly available and environmentally friendly. Solar-powered heating systems can raise pool water temperatures 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and are most efficient in mild climates.
Q: What should I be doing on a daily basis?
A: It's important to maintain efficient daily operations. Turn down the pool heater when the pool is not in use. When it's in use, maintain proper water temperatures (78 to 80 degrees for active swimming and 82 to 84 degrees for recreational use. Raising the water temperature 1 degree can boost the heating costs by 10 to 30 percent, depending on location. Backwash the pool filter only as much as necessary to avoid wasting water and energy.
Q: Is there anything special that outdoor pools should be doing?
A: Consider installing windbreaks to decrease evaporation rates. A mere 7-mile-per-hour wind on the pool surface can dramatically increase energy consumption. Windbreaks should be tall enough and close enough to the pool to limit the air turbulence over the pool surface.
Gone are the days when you could simply mow some grass, chalk in some lines and claim to have a baseball diamond. Likewise, you can no longer just install some swings, slides and play equipment without consideration for what lies beneath them. The world of sport and playground surfaces is vast, and there are many things to consider—from budget to safety factors—before you let the players loose on your fields and playgrounds.
Q: Our natural turf sports fields are looking old and worn. How can we renew our facilities?
A: If you've been relying on natural turf, you know that part of ensuring its long life is allowing it to rest. Because of this, you might only get to use your natural high-school football field a dozen times during a season. If your fields are getting worn out from too much use, you should scale back your planned activities to allow the turf time to recover.
If you've got many activities vying for field time, it might be wise to consider artificial turf. The latest generation of artificial turf—which is used at several professional and college stadiums—has more give than older versions, and looks and feels a lot more like real grass. In addition, it is now installed with improved rubber infill, making it safer for athletes playing hard-hitting sports like football. Best of all, it can withstand a day's worth of gym classes, an afternoon marching-band practice and an evening football game.
Q: What surface should we look for to protect children at our playgrounds?
A: According to the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), more than 200,000 preschool and elementary children end up in the emergency room for injuries that occur on playground equipment every year, and falls to the surface are a contributing factor in nearly 80 percent of these injuries. If you've been relying on loose-fill material like pea gravel, sand or mulch, your playgrounds may not be as safe as they can be. As soon as kids play on these surfaces, the fill is redistributed, so the fill at fall points might not be as deep as you intended.
Poured-in-place options provide good protection, and also provide for greater accessibility for disabled patrons. Synthetic turf can offer the look of grass, with the protection of the poured-in-place and tile options. Synthetic turf systems do not require infill material, making them much safer for infants and toddlers, who tend to put everything into their mouths. By adding supplemental padding, you can achieve safe fall heights of 10 feet for those courageous climbers.
Q: What do we need to know to keep our sports fields in playing condition?
A: No matter what kind of field you've got, the key factor in maintaining it is to prevent hazardous conditions from developing. The last thing you want is for one of your program's star ballplayers to twist an ankle in a gopher hole. You need to develop a regular inspection schedule and stick with it. Consult some of the local groundskeepers in your area for advice on what you should include in your plan.
If you've got a natural turf field, you'll need to create a smart maintenance schedule that involves everything from regular inspection for damaging pests and weeds to irrigation and mowing. You'll also need to repaint your lines depending on the sport and inspect your bases, goals and other equipment for wear and tear on a regular basis.
If you're relying on an artificial turf field, maintenance is much more basic over the long term. And unlike a natural field, the more it gets played on, the better it will get.
Water quality isn't the first thing most aquatic directors think of when they talk about engaging patrons. But, really, is there anything less appealing for swimmers than a contaminated pool?
The right chemical balance can reduce contamination risks and let aquatic managers focus on other important operational matters. The best part? You don't need a degree in chemistry to make your pool safe and inviting for guests.
Q: Could my pool or spa be susceptible to contamination?
A: Absolutely. It's a scientific fact that commercial swimming pools and spas are breeding grounds for tough water conditions. These include both organic materials and inorganic materials introduced into the water by swimmers. Studies show that adult bathers will typically shed a layer of dead skin cells, a pint or more of perspiration, small amounts of urine and a few grams of oils and cosmetics into the pool.
Q: What should I do to combat contamination?
A: Your best hope is a water chlorination system that is designed to consistently and accurately deliver the chlorine you need to kill bacteria, control algae and destroy organic contaminants. The ideal system will leave your water clean, sparkling and sanitary day after day, all season long.
Q: Why are chlorine levels so hard to maintain on bright, sunny days?
A: First of all, you probably have more bathers on a sunny day than a cloudy one. More bathers, of course, equal more bather waste. That alone increases the chlorine demand.
But even without the extra bathers or high temperatures, sunlight can have a devastating impact on chlorine. Depending on other factors such as water depth and temperature, bright sunlight can destroy 75 percent of the chlorine in pool water in about an hour.
Q: How can I combat chlorine depletion on sunny days?
A: Add 25 ppm of cyanuric acid—known as stabilizer or conditioner—to the pool water. This should cut the chlorine loss by two-thirds.
Q: How does water temperature effect chlorine delivery?
A: Extremely cold water can slow down chlorine delivery for the same water flow through the chlorinator. To combat this, increase the water flow through the chlorinator. That normally does the trick.
Q: Why did my pool turn cloudy?
A: There could be several causes: a high pH, high total alkalinity, filtration problems or the need for shocking.
Double-check your recommended pH levels. Also verify that the filter is working properly and that the pump is properly circulating the water. If available chlorine levels are low or combined chlorine levels are high, a shocking of the pool water may be needed.
Q: What's that white stuff floating in the pool, and how can I prevent it?
A: It's probably small calcium carbonate particles that have enough trapped air to float. They can come from the natural insolubles in the product or be formed if pH or total alkalinity levels are too high. Operating the pump for longer periods should remove the residue through the skimmer. Check to see that the weir flap on the skimmer is functioning properly to prevent any skimmer residue from returning to the pool.
Q: How should I store my chemicals?
A: Chemicals, unless otherwise noted, should be stored in their original containers with sealed lids in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. They should be kept away from heat, sparks, flames, direct sunlight and other sources of heat, including lighted tobacco products.
Because most pool chemicals are Class III oxidizers, local fire officials should be made aware of the storage conditions and the quantities you intend to store.
There's no doubt that swimming is a favorite pastime for many Americans. But if your pool's infrastructure is failing, your patrons are likely to find somewhere else to get their feet wet. If your pool surface is chipped, your pool deck is cracked and your gutters are deteriorating, the time to think about updates is now.
Q: From peeling paint to corrosion, we've had nothing but problems lately. But we don't have a big budget for an overhaul. How can we make our pool more swimmer- and budget-friendly?
A: You can only patch and repaint your pool for so long. Your options when your pool basin needs work include paint (epoxy- or rubber-based), fiberglass, plaster, metal wall or a PVC shell. For a long-term solution, your best and least costly option may be installing an envelope of PVC inside your old pool shell.
A textured PVC membrane is watertight, easy to clean, resistant to algae growth, pore-free and maintenance-free, aside from normal cleaning. It can provide both non-skid and smooth surfaces and is available in many colors. Repairs are rarely necessary, but when they are required, they can take place underwater. Even better, you can suspend your annual repainting program, because a PVC shell never needs to be painted at all. If you're in a part of the country where freezing and thawing creates problems for other surface types, PVC also can help. It expands and contracts with temperature fluctuations, so it won't come away from the pool surface as can happen with fiberglass and other materials. Best of all, installing a PVC membrane typically costs less than other more conventional renovation options.
Q: Our pool deck is due for an update. What's a safe, smart solution?
A: First and foremost, you want to consider your patrons' safety. And that means getting something under their feet that is non-slip. Many facilities have rough concrete poolside, but that can feel like sandpaper to bare feet. Another option is PVC decking. This type of deck will provide a long-term solution for your facility, and can be installed not only poolside, but virtually anywhere where slip-resistance and a watertight seal are important. Problems like delamination, spalling, flaking and peeling are eliminated with this type of surface. Better yet, it offers anti-fungal formulation, and maintenance is a snap.
Q: Our gutter is totally deteriorated, and the pipes are leaking. How can we fix this problem without completely rebuilding our pool?
A: For integral supply and return gutters, you can choose from extruded rigid PVC, or you can form a trench out of concrete. An extruded seamless all-PVC integral supply and return gutter functions virtually the same as a metal gutter system, with much lower maintenance requirements. And if your pipes are leaking, this type of system can be installed through a simple wall-top demolition of the perimeter of your pool, which removes the existing gutter and underlying concrete.
Q: How long will our updates to the pool basin typically last?
A: You definitely should do your homework on warranties when you consider your renovation options. Epoxy-based paint can last as long as five years, but rubber-based needs to be repainted annually. Plaster is a little better, lasting anywhere from three to five years. Fiberglass is even better than that, lasting as long as nine or so years when installed indoors. Metal wall installations can last more than 25 years, but also can be cost-prohibitive.
You're in luck if you've gone with PVC. PVC membranes typically come with long warranties. Manufacturers of PVC membranes, for example, typically provide a 10-year warranty. Even a metal wall installation is generally only warranted for five years. And even better news: Some of the original installations of PVC membranes are still functioning well after nearly three decades.
For many aquatic centers, the only time to make money is the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If inclement weather rains on your revenues, well, that's the price of doing the pool business, right?
Not necessarily. More and more centers have moved to year-round facilities with the help of custom-made pool environments. These enclosures not only allow for more programming, their aesthetic value also makes the aquatic center more attractive to patrons.
Scared of making such a big leap? It's easier than you think.
Q: What's the first step?
A: First, you must decide what type of structure you want. If you want something to get you over the winter hump, an inflatable dome will suffice. But if you want something more permanent—and trust us, you probably do—a rigid frame glazed-type enclosure is an attractive option.
Q: What's the most important factor when deciding on an enclosure type?
A: It's simply a matter of weighing the short-term and long-term benefits. Domes, for example, provide an inexpensive short-term option, but they aren't the best choice for facilities that want to make a long-standing commitment to a year-round aquatics program. Bubbles are labor-intensive, cost about $15,000 to inflate each year and last about 15 years. They're also not as airtight as permanent structures, meaning larger heating bills. In contrast, a rigid frame glazed enclosure is specifically designed to maintain the elements related to an indoor pool environment (dampness, humidity, chemical residue, etc.). Also, today's rigid frame enclosures are designed to meet local coding and snow loads for the area where they will be installed.
Q: If I want to build something quickly, what are my options?
A: Exactly how much time do you have? Obviously, domes have the quickest setup, but they require annual assembly. Rigid frame enclosures typically are constructed faster than brick-and-mortar buildings because they feature framing systems manufactured to the aquatic center's precise measurements. They're shipped to the site and assembled like a giant erector set. The best part? Once built, they require very little maintenance.
Q: What's the difference between a rigid frame enclosure and a brick-and-mortar building?
A: Both are permanent structures, but unlike most brick-and-mortar buildings, the rigid frame enclosures offer retractable roofs and sliding glass doors to provide an indoor/outdoor feel. Though they might cost more than domes or even some stick-built enclosures, they often are hailed for providing an inviting aquatic experience. And the more inviting the experience, the easier it will be to attract new patrons.
Q: What features should I include in my enclosure?
A: There are several features aquatics managers must consider. First, you should lean toward powder-coated aluminum or similar building materials that do not break down when exposed to moisture and chlorine. You also should consider a manufacturer that only uses building components that are not affected by the pool environment, such as baked-on power-coated aluminum structural frames and rafters, and stainless steel fasteners.
Q: What are the benefits of a retractable roof?
A: There are some obvious perks and some not-so-obvious ones. The roofs can fill 40 percent of the aquatic center with natural light, which provides an important psychological boost during the dreary winter months. Their ability to open and close also offers an easy way to help regulate air quality. Be sure the roof panels are made of polycarbonate—a tough, translucent, resin-based plastic—because it allows the natural light in while protecting against ultraviolet rays.
Each year, more than 3,000 people die from accidental drowning. While some of these may be unpreventable, aquatic managers must do everything in their power to ensure swimmers' safety. We get you on the right track with answers to some of the industry's most frequently asked questions.
Q: What safety equipment should I have on hand?
A: The American Red Cross and local health departments set these standards. The basic lifesaving equipment includes a pole, rope and personal flotation device. No aquatic facility would be equipped without first-aid kits, back boards, head immobilizers, CPR masks, neck braces, safety hoods, reaching poles, life rings and rescue tubes. You also should have the correct resuscitating equipment in accordance with the Red Cross and your local certifying agency.
Q: What should I stock in my first-aid kit?
A: When it comes to first-aid kits, there's no such thing as being over-prepared. At the very least, make sure it includes the following: bandages of various sizes, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, acetaminophen, non-stick pads in various sizes, burn cream, oval eye pads, health-care gloves, gauze, sponges, eye irrigating solution, cold packs, cloth tape and dispenser, first-aid cream, scissors, tweezers and a first-aid handbook.
Q: What's the recommended ratio for lifeguards to swimmers?
A: The Red Cross—the country's premier certifier of lifeguards—does not make such a recommendation. But your state or local health department might, so you should probably check with them first. Facility managers may want to establish ratios based on many factors that influence patron surveillance, such as activities and structures within the facility.
Q: I want to make my facility as accessible—and safe—as possible for my disabled patrons. What can I do?
A: Fortunately, you have many options. The aquatic industry has made tremendous strides in this area in the past decade. Your best bet for improving access is a pool lift. When selecting a lift, be sure it meets all ADA criteria by having features such as a 16-inch-wide seat, a footrest and unassisted operation capabilities. When purchasing an ADA-compliant lift, however, there are more than just legal guidelines to consider. If you don't have a significant number of patrons with special needs, a portable lift may be the best option. It can be stored easily, therefore allowing more deck space. Portable lifts also are ideal for aquatic centers with multiple water locations, such as a pool and a spa.
Q: How do I make my diving boards as safe as possible?
A: First make sure that there's enough non-slip grit present. You should also check that the bolts and rails are intact. Make a concerted effort to clean the stairs regularly and ensure they're not slippery.
Q: What else can I do to reduce the risk of injury at my aquatic facility?
A: Install "No Running" signage on deck. The deck should have a splash or wet area. Also, the use of sunscreens can result in slick spots. Stay aware of what areas can become slippery from oils and lotions, such as steps into the pool, gutters and the outside of showers, and place appropriate signage in those areas.
Your shorelines and waterways are an invaluable resource. They provide recreation and revenue in ways that other facilities cannot. They also require care and forethought in ways that other venues don't.
We guide you through the choppy waters with some tips on how to keep your shorelines pristine and user-friendly.
Q: Are there any design issues I should be concerned about?
A: Take the necessary steps to ensure there are enough public-access points to the waterfront. This is extremely important because development plans often leave them out. Consider developing ordinances that make public access a part of any new development design. Also be sure that access promotes universal accessibility.
Q: Our shoreline is a popular fishing spot. What can we do to better accommodate our fishermen?
A: Consider having fishermen-friendly amenities like bait vending machines and on-site tackle shops. If your park only has daytime hours, consider loosening them for anglers. Dawn and dusk are not only more comfortable for fishermen, they're also the best times to actually reel in a big one. Progressive parks and campsites also boast fish-cleaning stations, which offer an easy, sanitary way for anglers to take care of their catches.
Q: How do these stations work?
A: Fishermen love these tables because they're the cleanest, safest, fastest and most efficient way to prepare fish and game, then dispose of the waste in a sanitary manner. Other park patrons appreciate the stations—even if they don't realize it—because the tables keep away the odors and bloody waste that often sully hunting and fishing locales.
Cleaning stations located near boat ramps and campsites reduce the chance of fish and game being cleaned in inappropriate places such as restrooms. The stations typically are made of stainless steel with poly cutting boards. Each station is equipped with a heavy-duty garbage disposal, so the ground-up waste is deposited directly into the sewage system. This quickly removes the waste—and its odor—from the park site.
Units can accommodate multiple users at a time as well as offer ADA accessibility. They also can be a snap to install at waterfront locales since they arrive on-site, factory-wired, plumbed and assembled.
Q: We have a major litter problem on our shorelines. What can we do to combat it?
A: Having an ample supply of trash receptacles is the most important step in reducing litter. People are more likely to dispose of garbage properly when trash cans are in sight and easy to reach. With the various styles and colors available today, it won't be difficult to find one that blends into your shoreline. Make sure they're large enough to fit your emptying schedule. If they're too small, either your staff will be doing double duty or the garbage will be flying all over the shore—which is not only unsightly but can endanger wildlife.
Q: What can I do to prevent shoreline erosion?
A: The first step is to hold back on the hardscaping, the penchant for covering banks with concrete or rip-wrapping. It's not only unnecessary most of the time, it also causes runoff and harms the environment. Occasionally there are times when hardscaping is warranted, such as serious erosion at a river bend. But, for many other cases, the problem can be remedied by simply declaring a "no wake" zone.
Other bank-stabilizing options include planting hardy native materials or water-thirsty willow trees. These solutions not only help stabilize the soil, but also draw wildlife and birds. In beautifying an area already suited for recreation, you make your shoreline even more inviting.
Public parks play many roles. A neighborhood park might accommodate kids' playground activities most of the week, but on weekends serve as the setting for larger community gatherings. A soccer facility sees only occasional small crowds for summer league play, but is packed with fans when the high school season rolls around.
The buildings constructed in parks should be equally adaptable. The right facility for a multi-use park is one that can fill various needs as park uses change from season to season.
Q: We are looking to put several buildings in our parks around the city, but we don't have a lot of time or a huge budget. What's our best option?
A: Pre-engineered facilities can provide more flexibility. The building's manufacturer can provide help with the design, and a variety of materials and features are available to tailor the building to your particular parks' needs. A manufacturer that specializes in the parks and recreation field can help you more easily control costs and construction schedules.
Q: We're looking to install a restroom structure in our park, which sees fluctuating usage depending on time of year and for special events. How big should the restroom building be?
A: Good question. Do you plan for average daily use or for the really busy days? Restroom design firms can help you calculate the number of stalls or individual "single-user" rooms required for average usage. For really big events, these same companies will often recommend, from a cost-benefit standpoint, that the permanent building be designed for average usage and that portable toilets be brought in to handle bigger crowds for special events.
Q: What if we need to include showers, dressing rooms and concession space?
A: Building manufacturers can provide guidelines for sizing these spaces and equipping them to meet accessibility and health department requirements. Sizing a concession space can be tricky. If the plan is to sell only packaged foods from a concession window, then a small, simple space is needed. If cooking and other food preparation is involved, the size and equipment required in the concession space will be greater. Again, building manufacturers can make recommendations to match your needs and ensure that health department requirements are met.
Q: We want to go beyond the basic restroom building to also provide park patrons with a place to picnic and get out of the sun. Can we get all that in a pre-engineered building?
A: Roof extensions for shelter and shade are relatively easy additions to park buildings. The roof structure can be extended just a few feet over doorways or to cover a larger gathering space. Durable and attractive materials add to the building's appearance and functionality. Pre-engineering by the building manufacturer ensures structural stability, even for the highest wind, snow and earthquake loads.
Q: We need to incorporate plumbing and electrical into our building. How do we determine the best place in the park to locate the structure?
A: The location of a park building is often determined by the availability of utilities—power, water, sewer, communications—and the ability of maintenance vehicles to access the site. For these reasons, as well as park security and construction cost efficiency, park planners often use space inside the buildings to house equipment such as lighting and irrigation controls and for storage of park maintenance equipment and supplies. The building manufacturer can make recommendations for storage/mechanical room size, door configurations and design of plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.
Q: How can we ensure that the buildings we install today will still be functional many years down the road?
A: Park buildings are large investments that must provide many years of dependable service. Park managers who choose to invest in multi-function buildings often do so because they realize that future uses of a particular park may be quite different from current uses. Having buildings that are adaptable to many demands helps ensure that the needs of tomorrow can be met with the facilities built today.
In tough economic times, parks budgets feel the effects as much as anyone. The revenue streams dry up, and patrons' recreation dollars dwindle. With most recreation departments already stretched thin, more creative ways to bring in money must be found.
One increasingly popular option has become the selling of memorial benches. This is an excellent way to boost community ownership of local parks, purchase much-needed park amenities and boost revenue. We'll walk you through the process of launching this tried-and-true fundraiser.
Q: What type of bench should we earmark for memorializing?
A: What type do you need? Don't limit yourself to what can be memorialized. Allow people to dedicate benches in places that were special to them.
Q: A lot of other parks seem to be doing memorial pavers. Why would I go with benches instead?
A: There's nothing wrong with pavers, but there are many advantages to going with benches. First, benches cost more than bricks and therefore will appeal to a different set of donors. Second, parks can always use more benches, whether they are new ones or replacements. Pavers are normally one-time fund-raising efforts, while memorial benches can be an ongoing source of revenue.
Q: I feel like we're always hitting up the same people for donations. How can we broaden our base?
A: The trick is to increase your exposure throughout the entire community. Set up booths at festivals and fairs. Ask local schools if you can send flyers home with students, or see if the local municipality will let you enclose pamphlets in monthly utility bills.
It's also wise to personally explain the program to your most prolific donors. Even if they're not interested, they're probably willing to spread the word. Ask them if they could put a blurb in their company or neighborhood newsletter.
Q: Are there particular groups or organizations we should target with this campaign?
A: Of course, all civic groups should be informed of the fund-raising effort. You should also take the time to explain it to local funeral homes and assisted-living centers. They may be able to share information with families looking to make memorials after the death of a loved one. Be sure to include information on how to leave money for a memorial bench in a living trust. This way, people planning their funeral and estate distribution can make a gift that lives in perpetuity.
Q: What's the best way to get the word out?
A: Don't be afraid to use the local media. Ask them to do a story announcing the fund-raising effort, then occasionally provide updates on the project. If a donor has a particularly interesting story, don't forget to share it with the press. Consider purchasing advertisements thanking your most recent donors. Not only will it create goodwill with contributors, it also helps spread the word about your effort.
Q: What if I don't have the staff to cover an effort like this?
A: Manpower shortages are inevitable these days. Consider creating a parks foundation headed by local volunteers. These people will serve as your foot soldiers in the community. Make sure the foundation receives nonprofit status so donations are tax-deductible.
If you can't get fired up about the same old concession-stand fare, imagine how your patrons must feel. Fortunately, with just a little bit of tweaking, you can put the sizzle back in your snack bar.
Q: What are some of the recent trends in concessions?
A: Nationwide, menus are trending toward healthier items, though patrons still love a fried treat like a funnel cake. Quick and healthy menu choices that are easy to offer include shaved ice, pretzels and toasted subs. Smoothies have also proved to be a healthy, and extremely popular, choice. These can all be made easily with simple-to-operate, low-maintenance equipment and have a high profitability rate.
Q: Our menu can't please everyone, so to whom should I be catering it?
A: Of course, it's impossible to create a menu that fits everyone's lifestyle and dietary needs. The good news is that your menu probably offers a variety of options—now it's up to you to point it out. Hang signage promoting vegetarian options such as popcorn, nachos and caramel apples, or offer a bunless hot dog for carb-conscious patrons. Do your customers want something low-fat? Point them toward pretzels, snow cones or even cotton candy.
Q: I run a small concession stand. How many options should I have on my menu?
A: Remember to keep the menu simple. Variety may be the spice of life, but it doesn't always equate to profits. The more extensive the menu, the more time, skill and inventory required to execute it. Instead, try offering items in a variety of sizes. It will boost sales while bringing in a profit. Another simple way to expand the menu is to add variations of an existing item. If you offer popcorn, try adding flavors like caramel corn and cheese corn. It is easy and inexpensive to do, and can triple your popcorn sales.
Q: We'd like to add popcorn to our menu. What should we look for in our popper?
A: Always select a machine with a stainless steel kettle. These are much easier to clean, and a clean kettle means better-tasting popcorn. Twin-arm kettle suspension is another feature to look for. It's the safest option and also gives you more storage room in the cabinet as the kettle pivots to empty the corn. You also should use your popcorn machine as a marketing tool. Machines with a decal on the front glass, a silk-screened plastic dome, a lighted popcorn sign or a neon sign on the machine are sure to attract attention.
Q: What factors should I weigh before adding a new item?
A: Before adding a new menu item, ask yourself several questions:
- Will the new item hurt sales of other menu items?
- Will sales dollars on the new item be comparable to the average menu mix?
- Do any items need to be eliminated to make room for the new one?
- What skill level is required to prepare the product?
- Can you easily adjust the production of this item to match the demand?
- What are the inventory requirements?
- Will the equipment be easy to maintain?
- Has this item worked well for locations like yours?
It also may be wise to consider trying a short trial period to test the item before adding it to the menu.
Is your aquatic facility failing to make a splash? If you haven't updated the amenities or added new features since the Clinton administration was in office, the answer is probably not. Thankfully, there are several ways to revive your facility without breaking the bank.
Q: We can't afford gigantic rides or major renovations. Is there anything we can do?
A: Absolutely. Not all facilities need new rides or major renovations to freshen up. Consider adding play products that can be retrofitted to an older swimming pool. Since they draw water directly from the pool, there is no need for expensive water distribution or additional infrastructure costs. These toys include, but are by no means limited to, ground sprays, water cannons, activation bollards and soakers.
Q: How often should I change these features?
A: As often as your budget and imagination allow. That's the beauty of play products. You can interchange them to keep things fresh and lively as long as a swappable anchoring system is used. Another benefit of play products is that you don't have to go into debt to give your facility a facelift. Simply buy the products you can afford now and purchase other features as your finances allow.
Q: We no longer have a community pool. How can we give our patrons a water-play option without building an aquatic center?
A: The answer is as simple as adding a splash play area. In addition to attracting patrons, these amenities offer a colorful way to enhance parks and are just plain fun.
Q: If I go the splash pad route, what factors should I consider?
A: Before you design your splash play area, find out what works in other communities. As always, industry experts recommend contacting other parks to ask about their experiences. If possible, travel to that town and spend the afternoon observing the splash play area. Make note of several key observations, including which features are most popular and which attract the fewest patrons. It also may be beneficial to bring children of various ages from your community to conduct an informal focus group at the neighboring site. In order to attract children year after year, a splash play area must energize and engage them. Kids often prefer active entertainment such as water cannons and bells. An area only made up of arches, spray posts and ground sprays may catch an adult's eye but fail to entertain children for an extended period.
Q: Any tips for making our facility feel like a destination instead of just a neighborhood pool?
A: Aquatic centers cannot live by zooming drop slides alone. The best and most entertaining facilities are more than just a collection of fun water features. In a move taken from the private sector, many public facilities have been transformed into well-planned fantasy lands with central themes carried out. Slides, cannons and sprayers come in a variety of characters, with everything from sea life to pop-culture icons to swashbuckling pirates. Splash play areas are now being marketed with safari, western, nautical and fire-station themes, to name just a few. This tactic—known as theming—should extend beyond the water features. It also should be used to decide names of the concession stands, cabana areas, locker rooms and souvenir shops.
There's nothing like racing down a waterslide or spending an afternoon floating on a lazy river. That is, of course, until a drop in temperature or a rain storm sends patrons racing for the exits. To retain patrons, some aquatic center operators have built indoor pools that end up being unfortunate brick boxes with a dark, damp atmosphere.
Not exactly inviting, is it? Sure, it provides year-round access, but it forces them to give up fresh air and natural light—two of the things that make swimming enjoyable in the first place. Fortunately, you can give your guests the best of both worlds, and you can do it without building separate facilities.
Pool enclosures with separate roofs bring the outdoor experience inside. And more importantly, they can provide aquatic centers with year-round revenue streams.
Q: How do enclosures work?
A: Today's technology allows for the indoor/outdoor structure to exist in one structure. For example, aluminum-framed, all-glazed enclosures are capable of freespaning more than 140 feet, with retractable roof panels up to 35 feet long. An insulated polycarbonate or glass roof and insulated glass slides allow guests to be bathed in natural light, while a fresh breeze can be let in via large, rack-and-pinion, direct-drive retractable-roof panels and by opening about half of the roof and doors along the sidewalls.
Q: What shape will it take?
A: A typical structure may take the shape of a freestanding double slope or lean-to enclosure. It also could be a skylight supported by conventional construction. The roof can be curved, or dormers can be used to accommodate slide towers.
Q: Does it ever get too hot?
A: It shouldn't. Operators easily can adjust air ventilation by opening and closing the glass-paneled enclosures. Many enclosures also include some kind of mechanical air-handling system.
Q: What will this do to my energy bills?
A: This is one of the greatest benefits of an enclosure with a retractable roof and sides. With the roof and sides open during the summer, the pool or waterpark becomes an outdoor facility. When this happens, the owner saves the cost of air conditioning, running a dehumidification system and even turning on the lights. During the winter months with the roof and sides closed, a complete thermally broken aluminum framing system and glazed envelope allow the guests to experience the warmth of the solar gain while the facility enjoys the resultant energy savings by having to supply less heat to the enclosure. Some tests have shown a difference between inside and outside temperatures as high as 30 degrees on a sunny day without any supplemental heat.
Q: Will my patrons notice the difference?
A: Absolutely. Patrons, without question, can benefit from the natural light provided by a retractable roof. Researchers believe natural light helps enhance moods and combats depression. It also increases productivity levels and boosts energy.
Natural light can be an aesthetic boon for your facility, as well. It bolsters the building's appearance by making spaces look bigger and rendering colors true.
Mother Nature may have given us gorgeous waterfronts. But recreation managers are the only ones responsible for keeping them viable.
Waterfronts, with their upkeep and constant use, can become financial drains on communities. Proactive facilities, however, are turning their shorelines into profit centers. Pedal boats, with their ease of use and high profitability, have become an increasingly popular choice.
Q: I only have a limited budget for improving my waterfront. Why go with pedal boats?
A: There are many reasons. Most importantly, they boast a low-investment, high-return factor. You can usually pay for them within one season.
According to industry studies, users consistently rate programming near or by water among their favorite recreational activities. People are simply drawn to the peaceful, relaxing environment that water provides.
Q: How can I make sure the boats are safe? I don't want any risk-management headaches.
A: The pontoons should be 100 percent foam-filled. The foam, in essence, promotes the boat's flotation. If the pontoon is damaged, its flotation level will not be affected and should not require immediate repairs.
Make sure the boat's steering wheel is designed to turn in the direction you want the pontoon to go. It'll help prevent boating accidents.
Q: What kind of construction should I look for?
A: A fiberglass boat is a good way to go. It has the longest life span of any material. It also is durable enough to withstand poundings along rocky shorelines. Another bonus? They're easy to repair should any damage occur.
Q: What kind of maintenance do the boats require?
A: Minimal, if you buy the right model. For a low-maintenance option, make sure the pedal cranks are equipped with inboard and outboard bearings. Select self-draining pedal wells and seats, which will eliminate the need to bail out or dry off the boat.
Q: If I make this investment, how can I be sure people will use the boats?
A: Once you buy the boats, their success—or failure—will rest primarily on your shoulders. Place the boats in a good location, one that has visibility and a close proximity to other activities. It also helps to post good signage and include pedal boating in marketing campaigns.
It's also a good idea to put the launching dock near a snack bar. It will be a mutually beneficial pairing that draws people and helps increase revenue.
Q: What kind of profit can I expect?
A: Every park is different, of course, but we can share industry estimates. Ten boats will cost about $15,000. If you rent those boats for $8 an hour throughout the summer—with longer operation hours on weekends and holidays—your projected revenue in your first season would be about $43,600. Some operators have even boasted that they can pay for the cost of three pedal boats in one holiday weekend.
Q: What should I do before launching my new pedal-boat concession?
A: Consider visiting other pedal-boat operations to see what works for them. Take note of important decisions, like signage, rental fees and proximity to snack stands and restrooms.
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