Guest Column - March 2021
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inPERSPECTIVE / AQUATICS

Fitness Is In!
Optimize Value for Swimmers

By John Dzarnowski


In these pandemic-defined times, fitness is in. And swimming holds a special place for today's fitness enthusiast. Swimming's cardiovascular, low-impact benefits offer myriad physical benefits, as well as a more appealing regimen for people seeking socially distance-paced workouts.

While that is good news for today's facility managers offering aquatics, the challenge rests not only in being able to offer the activity year-round, but also in optimizing the variety of users who are attracted to the aquatic amenity.

When it comes to expanding your aquatics facility, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That's why every community wants to evaluate their capacity to offer activities, especially indoor activities. How facility managers formulate their budgets and game plans will go a long way toward how they appeal to a broader aquatic audience.

In some cases, that means making changes to your facility. Take a community aquatics center that housed an indoor lap pool and indoor leisure pool featuring men's and women's locker rooms earmarked to serve both the pool and fitness center, which also included an outdoor pool offering leisure activities.

While the facility had a strong and active swim team, facility managers placed a greater emphasis on leisure activities—with a majority of the indoor and outdoor pool budget focusing on the leisure audience. In fact, as part of its upgrade, the locker rooms were renovated to include four family changing rooms, making it easier on patrons with young kids to use the pool.

This example highlights, among other things, how facility owners (park districts, recreational departments, community associations, etc.) understand their constituents.

For facilities looking to expand the foundation of their aquatics activities, there are ways to advance your options:

  • Conduct in-house evaluations by speaking with staff who interact with patrons and by individually talking to users to find likes, dislikes and wants.
  • Create a task force to help with facility ideas. The group would consist of community leaders and special interest groups like swim teams, leisure groups, seniors and other organizations seeking aquatic facilities.

Ultimately, the goal is to determine the focus of your facility: What do you want to be, and how do you do it? Are you trying to attract lap swimmers? Leisure swimmers? Exercise enthusiasts (i.e., water aerobics)? Competition swimmers? From a facility's perspective, these are all different groups with different requirements.

One way to expand your aquatic offerings is through upgrading your facilities to include indoor options. To do so means programming your facility to handle myriad aquatic activities throughout the day. These different audiences also mean you have to be more creative with your budget. For example, if you operate a 24-hour facility, you cannot turn off the mechanical systems for water management. In addition, your HVAC systems must be robust. Both of these factors incur more costs.

From a programming standpoint, you will need to add more than four to six hours of pool time to help recoup those costs. This remains one of the biggest challenges for most community facility directors looking to grow their centers.

Other challenges involve considerations like maintaining ideal water temperatures. Different groups have different needs, which can also increase costs. While many facility managers have tried to keep one body of water in the facility at the same temperature, the strategy does not work. Some swimmers will complain that the water is too hot, while others will say the water is too cold. You cannot afford to alienate either group.

The solution means you will need two bodies of water with two filtration systems, which must be separate to achieve different water temperatures.

Another challenge is the physical dynamics of the pool. For example, lap swimmers need to have regulated lap lengths—25 meters, 50 meters, etc. All of your pool's lane widths must be consistent, so if you are adding lanes, the pool must have the minimum dimensions.

For recreational swimmers, you will need amenities such as indoor slides, lazy rivers or a vortex pool—each of which can present opportunities for flexibility, but may involve additional funds.

Aim for incremental expansion. One way to approach the upgrade is to incrementally expand your facility over time, which will give you the flexibility to focus on specific additions and reduce your cash outlay. The enhancements—and budget—go at your pace.

Let's consider an example: a facility that had a lap pool with a separate dive well with deep water for the waterslides and diving boards. Along with offering programming like swim lessons and aquatic exercise, the facility occasionally held diving competitions. The mixed-use application resulted in complaints about water temperature due to all of these diverse activities all happening in one body of water.

Facility managers later added an indoor leisure pool starting at zero depth and going to 2.5 feet in depth. The expansion created opportunities for younger kids to use the facility. The separate pools also enabled the facility to incorporate warmer water temperatures, which broadened the appeal to other constituents.

Ten to 15 years later, the facility ended up adding another warm-water pool, which drew interest from seniors and other exercise/therapy groups. While the facility could not afford to do each upgrade at the same time, the gradual expansion helped them define their priorities.

Another expansion capability is the fitness club model, which features activities such as swim cardio, weights and general swimming time. Offering these types of activities helps expand your audience, especially if your community does not have facilities that offer similar amenities. Adding a fitness component to your aquatic facility creates a number of key synergies, as many fitness enthusiasts like to have the option of those combinations.

In addition, you can enhance your aquatic facility's capabilities and audience by adding a competition component. Different facilities offer different levels of competition. Depending on your offerings, along with adding a competition pool or a diving well, you can expand your facility's layout to include spectator spaces (bleachers), a larger lobby area featuring a foodservice component, additional locker room space, public toilet amenities, a dry land exercise room for warmups and stretching and a whirlpool. At the same time, you could add an analysis area for coaches so that they can film their swimmers and review their performance on video.

Fitness is in. And, the most significant challenge in choosing the right solution for your facility is appealing to broader audiences. Project design teams help you tell your facility's story, but your story has to be based on what your community wants. That means defining and capturing your community's needs is critical to building a year-round aquatics facility. RM



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John C. Dzarnowski, AIA, is Principal, Director, Municipal and Recreation with FGM ARCHITECTS. For more information, visit www.fgmarchitects.com.