Feature Article - February 2007
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

By Jessic Royer Ocken

The Model Pool Code Project

Whether in the throes of designing a new facility or trying to upgrade and prolong the life of an older one, wouldn't it be helpful to have some sort of master plan or guideline to use as a reference?

It's likely that your state or county has some requirements for aquatic facilities, so don't forget to check, but the larger problem is that "there's no national environmental health body that sets standards for how [aquatic] facilities should be run," said Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF).

For food and drink or pharmaceuticals, there are "government bodies that have legal jurisdiction," he explained. "But there's none for recreational water."

In an attempt to correct this oversight, the NSPF has been working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop a "model pool code."

"When health departments are looking to adopt or modify their code, they can look at recommendations from the CDC," Lachocki said of the plans. "Our goal is consistency, to reduce potential risk and to be more economical through the entire aquatics marketplace because there aren't different codes all over the place."

Participation will be voluntary, but who doesn't want a little help in making the pool a safer place?

The project is in its early stages, but visit www.nspf.org for information as it becomes available.


So now that it's time to build, how do you decide what you want?

"Most people are familiar with box-type pools, but in the last 16 years we've seen more zero-depth entry pools, waterslides and water features," said Roger Schamberger, director of marketing for Burbach Aquatics. "It's not enough to have a box pool, a concrete deck and a chain-link fence. These days you're serving a discerning crowd. You need grass, sand, a volleyball court and some play features."

What's driving these changes? A part of it is perhaps an altruistic desire to provide better entertainment opportunities for the community, but another part of it is most certainly something else. "Municipalities need to reduce their operating deficits," Burbach said. "One of the most effective ways to do this is to increase the recreational assets of any facility."

Additional features beyond just a concrete pool increase the "play value," Schamberger explained. "This expands the time pool patrons spend at the facility."

He noted that he's watched many aquatic centers go from having no snacks available to vending machines for soda and candy bars to full-service restaurants on site. "Planning for [these concession areas] parallels planning for the aquatic center," he said. "If planned correctly, both will perform and produce and hopefully generate a positive operating budget for the local unit of government."

Beyond the snacks, you want your facility to look like a fun place to be. Aquatic centers are "really important to quality of life in a community," Yarger noted. "They're happy buildings. Community centers and recreation centers are fun places. People want to go there."

Design with this happiness in mind, and the building itself can help attract visitors.

To that end, try to implement a "layering effect," Yarger suggested. "If you're working out, you want to be able to look over and see someone doing something else." Big windows and even glass walls can help create this sort of transparent environment, which not only comforts those who are exercising by showing them that others are suffering along with them, but also can introduce patrons who come in focused on one activity to all the other options available.

And what might those options be? New-generation swimming pools are styled to reach "the newly born and the nearly dead," Yarger said. The easier it is to enter and get familiar with the water, the more comfortable your guests (particularly the very young and the elderly) will be. Leisure pools with zero-depth entry have been popular in Europe for years and are now making a stateside splash.

"Where there's a shallow edging and a shoreline, you don't have to get into 4 or 5 feet of water right away," Yarger said. "You can get acquainted and go from there."

It's not just the shorelines that are shallower these days. Many pools are shrinking the deep end or forgoing it altogether in favor of more water recreation options. You can now build play elements and jungle gyms surrounded by just a few inches of water, Yarger explained.

If you've got competitive swimmers or those who love laps in your area, you may want to keep some obstacle-free, deeper water around, but "the battle is always how much," Yarger said. Even in the design phase, it's important to consider how your facility will be used.

Yarger cited a recent renovation project handled by his firm that helped transform a community pool complex with a 50-meter outdoor pool with diving boards, an instructional pool and what he referred to as a "urine puddle"-style baby pool. The renovation created a more entertainment-focused area by adding a small zero-depth-entry children's area, a second instructional pool, two body slides and a lazy river. These upgrades leave plenty of water available for competitive use, but they dramatically increase the amount of water for "casual" use.

Adding a theme is another fun way to get kids engaged with the water. The Yarger Design Group has done a "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" play area, complete with giant foam fish on the play elements, water sprays and overhead awnings with waves on them "so it appears that the kids are underwater looking up at the waves," Yarger explained. In Michigan, Avalanche Bay waterpark is styled to look like an Austrian village, which connects this watery play area to the nearby ski resort and the frequently wintry weather outside.

And speaking of waterparks, how do you decide whether to build a pool or go the more exotic route? "Usually a community pool doesn't have the extreme attractions that you'd find at a waterpark," Yarger noted. "A waterpark also draws from a larger area than a community pool."

In other words, waterparks are harder to come by, so people will be willing to travel a bit further for the experience. However, waterparks are rare birds because they up the ante in almost every category—from construction and maintenance costs to safety considerations and staffing needs. Depending on the size of your budget and your community, a waterpark might be a bit more than you've bargained for. However, most modern recreation-focused pool complexes borrow at least a few of their tricks from the waterpark world. You might consider a wave pool to add the motion of the ocean to your entertainment offerings or a lazy river to give tube riders and inflatable-float fans a place to bounce along.