Guest Column - May 2009
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Design Corner: Starting Out Small

From Spray Park to Comprehensive Aquatics Complex

By Tom LaLonde


acing not-uncommon budget constraints, public park and recreation leaders might wish to consider a phased approach to creating an aquatics facility that offers some amenities sooner, with more offerings to come online later, as resources permit. In formulating an extended effort to achieve full and inclusive aquatics objectives for a community, we recommend developing a comprehensive master plan that includes the ultimate build-out of a site. From this, a cost estimate can be created and priorities identified in phases that meet the budgetary goals.

Today's outdoor public aquatics complexes tend to be sophisticated affairs that can include a complex combination of components, from zero-edge activity, lap and children's pools; to spray-play equipment and sand-play areas; to lazy rivers and sun/shade decks; to drop slides hooked up to diving/deep water apparatuses; and combinations of body flume and inner tube slides—not to mention support facilities, such as bathhouses, filter buildings and concession areas.

The current price tag for a typical configuration at an outdoor complex serving a medium-sized community can run from about $5 million to more than $10 million. Communities looking to build a new aquatics facility or replace an aging pool might find it especially difficult in these economic times to swallow the cost of building a complex from "A to Z" all at once—or even in a relatively short time period. For park and recreation agencies that serve such communities, an incremental approach to building a comprehensive aquatics complex might make for a sensible option.

By starting with a smaller component—such as a spray park—and expanding on a site according to a plan conceived to meet activity, population and budget goals, a full-blown facility can be secured on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. In determining an incremental, or phased, approach to move from modest to magnificent, a public park and recreation agency should know what kind of growth the community anticipates—as well as what kinds of funding it may expect down the road.

What Is Wanted or Needed?

Substantial experience in designing public aquatics facilities has provided us with a strong direction for eliciting key information that can help us, in turn, assist communities with building a solid approach to making needs projections as they think through a course for expanding/evolving aquatics facilities. Here are some steps:

  • Perform a community survey to determine what the community prefers and would support funding.
  • Involve a focused citizens advisory group that represents different factions in the community, such as leisure swimming and competitive swimming, tots, teens, adults and seniors.
  • Look toward national trends to determine what elements are well received and can support revenue projections.
  • Examine the demographics of the community in an effort to match facilities with age groups, interests and so on. Residents of a district with a large graying population, for example, would not likely clamor for a deep hopper, but rather would likely prefer a therapy or lap pool.