Feature Article - February 2005
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A Complete Guide for Aquatic Centers

A comprehensive look at aquatic facility design, programming, maintenance and risk management

By Kyle Ryan

Americans, on the whole, love to swim. In 2003, swimming ranked fourth in sports participation according to the National Sports Good Association. "Swimming," though, is a pretty general term for Americans' love of water, and those same NSGA numbers show its participation was down by more than 11 percent since 2002—and nearly 20 percent from 1998.

Fitness swimmers are the minority; most people out there want water recreation. The old rectangular community pool is a vestige of a bygone era, according to people who make their living designing such facilities.

Randy Mendioroz, president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Aquatic Design Group, knows this trend well. His firm can design those rectilinear pools in a snap, but the demand for them started dropping in the 1980s with the advent of the waterpark.

Since then—as the rec industry has witnessed—many public and private aquatics facilities have emulated those parks, usually with good results. For example, in the early '90s, Aquatic Design Group renovated the Municipal Plunge park for the city of Hanford, Calif., just outside of Fresno. While keeping the park's overall water surface area the same, they converted the park's old pool into two smaller ones and added a water slide with its own receiving area.

The result? The year prior to the renovation, the park had 6,000 visits. The year after, it had 38,000.

"I'm not saying that that happens in every case, but it just gives you an indication of what is possible," Mendioroz says. "You've just got to appeal to that 95 percent of the community that are not lap and fitness swimmers. That's a much bigger market to draw."