Feature Article - March 2007
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A Plan Four All Seasons

Four-season design for recreational enclosures

By Kelli Anderson

Keeping up appearances

Even when exterior structures are up to the task, interior conditions can spell trouble. Most panel-and-frame structure manufacturers are savvy to the destructive potential of aquatic spaces and build their structures out of corrosion-resistant aluminum with the added aesthetic and protective benefit of paint or even powder-coating. But regardless of a structure's plus-points, aquatic spaces can still wreak havoc on both the interior and exterior materials if proper care is not taken to ensure that a good-quality air-handling system is in place—one suitable to the size of the space and conditions of the geographical area.

Case-in-point: One aquatic facility located in the South continues to battle high heat and humidity because opening the structure's panels to the equally high heat and humidity of the outside environment offers no relief. As a result, they find themselves battling interior fog, mold, uncomfortable temperatures and the constant corrosion of heating units. Although the structure is sound and met intended needs, an inadequate air-handling system without a proper dehumidifier to make the indoor climate comfortable has resulted in less-than-ideal conditions. A pool enclosure that normally would require no maintenance now requires bleach and a hand cloth to wipe down the constant encroachment of mold. It didn't have to be that way.

Stand by your plan

As with any building project, selecting the right players is key for a happy ending, with none being quite so important as the architect.

"The key player is absolutely the architect," said Pierre Lebel, a regional sales manager for a panel-and-frame company. "You want a facility to look nice, but it's never just a pool enclosure. You usually have a bathhouse that needs to match the architecture, or with clubhouses you have to try to fit it into a larger facility—to work the two systems in a way that meshes together."

All in all, it takes a lot of coordination and sufficient communication with various players.

"The architect should steer—they compile a team to talk to one another," Crowder said. "They should be dedicated to that market and conversant with HVAC manufacturers, engineers, et cetera. You really have to stress a meeting with all the players."

Stress communication. Often. And did we mention the need for communication?

"I had to make sure the engineers were in communication with the concrete contractors for proper footings and with the framers for north and south walls," recalled Jim Dickerson, owner of the Francis Scott Key Family Resort in Ocean City, Md. "They had to know what was going to be there."

But sometimes even the best-laid plan for your team selection needs a backup. "Always have a plan B," Dickerson advised. "I can tell you from experience with a contractor who died and we had to go to another one—I didn't have a plan B. I was lucky to get another contractor. Now we always get two or three quotes."

Getting the best players for your team can be a tricky business. Previous experience can make some selections easy, while other selections, normally a local choice, may require you to go farther afield to find someone with a history of specific experience—especially when it comes to locating mechanical systems for aquatic spaces.

Many times the enclosure manufacturer will provide suggested mechanical system suppliers to ensure that a knowledgeable approach to maintaining interior air quality is achieved. One-stop-shopping is a characteristic of some manufacturers, while others may simply make recommendations. However the players are assembled, making sure they communicate effectively so that the right hand knows what the left is doing will result in a good finished product.

Knowing what you want—and what you don't want—before going into a project certainly helps inform your ultimate decisions. "The big thing is to make sure you know what you want," said Rex Outhier, senior program manager of Great Plains Family YMCA in Weatherford, Okla. "We knew we wanted something more open with natural flow and natural light. Our board went to a lot of pools, and one of the biggest issues was circulation and rotting chlorine. Everything rots over time. We could have gone with electric panels, but we went manual and we went with powder-coated beams. It's worked really well."

Thanks to today's technology and advances in architectural design, recreational spaces housed in four-season structures wow us from the impressively large, such as the STN Sports Dome, to the über-fantastic Allianz Arena. Whether a small bubble, a stunning panel-and-frame or the breathtaking expanse of translucent fabric, there is a perfect solution to your year-round recreational needs.