Feature Article - September 2006
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Refreshing Strategies

Cool Tips for Waterparks and Splash Play Areas

By Stacy St. Clair

There are a million nagging questions that come with running a waterpark or an aquatic center.

Is the filtration system working properly? Are the lifeguards ensuring patrons' safety? Are state and local regulations being met?

We hate to be bearers of bad news, but there's even more to be concerned about. Namely, is your facility hip enough? Does it have a fresh, modern feel? Or are you just treading water, doing the bare minimum in order to survive?

The answer can be scary. But if the questions aren't asked, you're doing a huge disservice to your facility.

Thankfully, there are several ways to give your aquatic facility a revived look. Some require a little more time—and money—than others. With a concerted effort, however, these suggestions can help any swimming spot make a big splash. Before launching the endeavor, it's important to understand the power of a first-class renovation.

"You've got to keep up with the times or you're going to be left out in the cold," Missouri-based architect William Yarger says.

Yarger should know. He helped resuscitate the Bridgeton Family Swim Center in Missouri. When he assumed the project several years ago, the facility seemed to be on its last legs. The aging, Z-shaped pool was functionally obsolete and expensive to run.

"Basically, it was getting old and it wasn't functioning any more," says Walter Siemsglusz, director of parks and recreation for Bridgeton, Mo. "We noticed a drop in usage."

The attendance drop had a lot to do with the pool's appearance. It was a concrete slab, wholly absent of color and engaging features. It might have worked in the 1980s, but it no longer met today's expectations. Many patrons were fleeing to a nearby waterpark in Maryland Heights, leaving the facility nearly empty on sunny afternoons.

"It got to the point where they were paying lifeguards to do nothing," Yarger says. "They weren't doing anything because there was nothing to do. No one was at the pool."

Yarger's design aimed to change all that. He replaced the obsolete swimming hole with an 11,900-square-foot leisure pool and competitive pool. The facility features a zero-depth entry, five water geysers, two slides and water cannons.

The aquatic center also has a competitive pool, a somewhat rarity among newer designs. The Bridgeton parks department, however, was insistent upon the component because the local swim team has been a community fixture for decades.

"It was really important to them, even though it didn't make sense from an economic or operational point of view," Yarger says. "But it was important to the community, and that's what mattered."

Still, Yarger did not want the competitive pool to become wasted space. He placed a drop slide in the deep end to increase its programming value and make the area engaging when not being used for swim meets.