Feature Article - January 2007
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Beyond the Lap Lane

Get more people in the pool with fresh aquatic programming for adults

By Stacy St. Clair

Repair, Renovate or Replace?

There comes a time in every aquatic facility's life when the tough question must be asked: Should it be repaired, renovated or replaced?

By addressing this pressing concern, aquatic managers open themselves up to more programming options and increased patronage. Finding the correct answer for your facility isn't always easy.

The process is difficult. It requires honesty, introspection and, occasionally, courage from pool operators.

But those willing to deal with the tough questions may actually prolong their facilities' lives.

"Many companies, organizations, park districts, et cetera, are facing the issue," said Scot Hunsaker, president of the renowned aquatic design firm Counsilman-Hunsaker. "You need to identify what your definition of success is. For most organizations, that would be revenue."

When it comes to existing pools, minor facelifts can sometimes delay the aging process. You don't have to break the bank, but with a little creativity this work can go a long way toward giving your facility a new look.

First, consider adding play products that can be retrofitted to older pools. These features draw water directly from the pools, so they do not require pricey water distribution systems or additional infrastructure. Popular options include, but are by no means limited to, ground sprays, water cannons, activation bollards and soakers.

More and more pools are opting for these play features because of the flexibility they allow. The features can be changed as often as the facility's budget and creativity allow.

Aquatic operators also don't have to go into debt to finance the makeover. They can simply buy the products their budget permits and add on as revenue becomes available.

And, if other communities are any indication, the new features will open additional revenue streams and programming options. The elements make facilities more attractive to group visits and party rentals.

Some older facilities, however, cannot be saved. Though it's a difficult decision, Hunsaker said that wise aquatic managers know when to stop throwing money down the drain.

"At some point it does not make sense to keep putting money into a 30-year-old pool year after year," he said. "You have to decide when it is ultimately more cost-effective to just start anew."

To weigh a facility's effectiveness, aquatic managers must sit down and crunch the numbers. How much would all the repairs costs? How much would it cost to build from scratch?

As a general rule of thumb, Hunsaker said that if pool repair costs make up 60 percent or more of the total amount needed to build a new pool, it's probably better to go new.

"You need to come up with a business plan today," he said. "Find out exactly what it takes to get there—and if it's ultimately worth it."

Once a community has decided to build new, the first thing it must consider is the facility's location. Ask yourself this question: If you had the choice, would you build in the current location again?

If the answer is no, then you should consider relocating to an area that would be more profitable and conducive to new programming. For example, a pool that was in the center of town 30 years ago might not be today. A city's south side might not have been developed three decades ago, but it now could be the city's main hub.

"Your existing pool might be in what used to be a desirable part of town," Hunsaker said. "Cities change, demographics change, a community's needs change. All of these things need to be looked at."

Wherever you decide your new facility should go, it's important to get the local power-brokers on board. This often can be difficult because officials might have antiquated ideas about aquatic programming and diversions.

It's important to show them how dynamic, all-ages programming can impact revenue streams and patronage.

"You might run into the attitude that the pool in question was good enough for me when I was a child, so it's good enough for kids today," Hunsaker said. "That's just not true today. Kids today are totally different and have different needs and expectations."

Hiring the right architect and aquatic consultant is a key move. They'll play a critical role in designing a facility that should last at least 50 years.

They'll also help come up with ways to make a big splash on a shallow budget. Hunsaker has lectured to aquatic managers all over the country and their desire to pursue a cost-effective project is generally paramount.

"Many of the people in my sessions are like people in most communities," Hunsaker said. "They are expected to do more with less."