Feature Article - January/February 2003
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Getting the Biggest Splashes for Your Bucks

Current trends in aquatic design and programming

By Kelli Anderson

Leisure pool at Georgia State in Atlanta

With many pools of the '50s and '60s taking their last laps both physically and functionally, communities are faced with three basic choices: repair, renovate or reinvest in the lap pool's more highly evolved counterpart, the aquatic center. Many communities, armed with public demand and backed by tax dollars, are choosing new aquatic centers. As a society our expectations for quality of life now include water recreation in a way that is unprecedented, resulting in facility design and programming innovations effecting everything from rec-center tot pools to university rec and fitness centers to medical facilities. It's clearly a case of "Water, water everywhere..."

Water ways

The first municipal aquatic centers appeared in the early '80s, adapting the successful elements of the waterpark industry to the local community's desire for fun water-based recreation. These centers have evolved over the last 20 years into the familiar facility assortments of zero-depth water entry, interactive spray features, slides, splash play areas, vortexes and lazy rivers. Facility managers—like Heath Olinger of The Wet Zone in Rowlett, Texas, a waterpark/aquatic center hybrid—strive to continually change the attractions to keep community interest alive.

"Ideally, every year we like to have a new ride," Olinger says. Facilities feel the need to stay fresh.

Outdoor pools at RiverChase of Fenton in Fenton, Mo.

One facility that made the Who's Who list of aquatic facilities in USA Today's 2001 top 10 public pools around the country is RiverChase of Fenton in Fenton, Mo., which opened its gates three years ago. Its most popular feature, according to Mary Jo Dessieux, director of parks and recreation, is the 200-foot lazy river with fountains and bubblers.

"People love to lay in it," Dessieux says. "There's different levels with benches, gathering and socializing spaces, and lots of interactive features in our indoor/outdoor pools."

As with most aquatic centers, it is geared toward families with children and is a stellar example of how to get it right the first time.

Separate systems

Recent trends in these newer facilities reveal that the larger bodies of water in aquatic centers are giving way to more separate systems for those who can afford them.

"Clients are going toward more separate systems to control the different bodies of water," says Mike Pratl, project manager at Jacobs Facilities, Inc. in St. Louis. Rather than having to shut down an entire facility for water treatment, as in larger, single-system designs, separate-system design allows for differing water temperatures, shutting down separate areas where activity is low, or being able to treat or clean a single pool area in the event of contamination.

"It's definitely a plus from an operational standpoint to keep visitors coming back," Pratl says.