Guest Column - May 2009
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Design Corner: Starting Out Small

From Spray Park to Comprehensive Aquatics Complex

By Tom LaLonde

Prudent Planning

Ascertaining and outlining budget and program projections are essential to embarking on a logical aquatics complex development project. Having a good idea of where your community will be 10, 20 or more years down the road is important in planning what facilities to build—and the rate at which it makes sense to build them. The size and selection of components will depend on a community's interests and demographics.

When establishing a capital improvements plan, operational expense/revenue projections should be considered. A capital improvements budget should include builder fees and general conditions, contingencies and soft costs (not actual construction costs), which include architectural/engineering fees, permits, surveys, soil and construction testing, furniture/fixtures and other owner costs. This is important because soft costs can add as much as 30 percent to 40 percent to the overall cost of a project.

Regardless of the path and timeframe for building an aquatics facility through a phased approach, solid planning for a sound progression of amenity development is key to achieving efficiencies. A park agency, for example, should make it a point to work closely with the city or village that its district covers to ensure that all municipal requirements have been considered as the project is implemented—an important factor to avoid time delays and costly changes.

When focusing on specific configuration and components in a gradual approach, "starting out small" would generally begin with spraygrounds, moving to a zero-entry activity pool, then build from there. Regardless of the number of components or their arrangement, a successful project requires good, early planning—and the ability be flexible especially if an aquatics complex construction plan is to be implemented over a number of years.


Tom LaLonde, AIA, is a registered architect and a principal with Williams Architects Ltd., Carol Stream, Ill., a leader in recreation facility design in the Midwest. During his career serving public recreation agencies, Tom has worked on a significant number of outdoor aquatic facility projects. For more information, visit