Feature Article - June 2007
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Fit Facilities

YMCAs and health clubs were both more likely than respondents from other facilities to be planning to add both splash play areas and indoor aquatic facilities. The addition of splash play areas reflects a trend commonly noted among industry experts to construct family aquatic facilities rather than competitive swimming environments. The trend is to include more facilities for recreational swimming and aquatic exercise, rather than for competitive swimming. This includes splash play elements, as well as vortex pools and lazy rivers, zero-depth entry and other amenities more conducive to play in the water.

But that doesn't take away from the need for swimming instruction, a common programming option among YMCAs. For example, in testimony before the U.S. House Interior and Environmental Subcommittee, Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" and chairman of the Children & Nature Network, said that according to a survey by Aquatic Adventures, a nonprofit organization, 90 percent of inner-city kids in San Diego, Calif., do not know how to swim.

Safety and risk management for aquatic facilities were commonly cited as concerns among aquatic directors at YMCAs and health clubs. One Chicago-area aquatic director cited "creating new programming with the safety issues that are out there," as a top concern. An aquatics director at a Maryland JCC said safety also hits home when it comes to protecting staff. He cited "complying with OSHA standards for protection of employees, especially in aquatics facilities (with chemicals, equipment, etc.)" as his top concern.

Todd Seidler, the coordinator of the graduate program in Sport Administration at the University of New Mexico and a facility planning consultant, said that many facilities of all kinds are taking a more proactive approach to safety and risk management.

"There's an increase in litigation throughout society, but also in sport and recreation, and I think a lot of organizations are seeing a need to do more and more risk management," he said.

He added that he expects the use of such programs to grow over the next several years, especially considering some of the high-profile, large-dollar awards that have been granted.

"It's definitely one trend I see expanding, especially doing more formalized risk management plans, putting together a committee and trying to be more proactive," he said. "In the past, all too often organizations have been more reactive—they don't do anything until there's an injury or a problem appears. I'm hoping the word is getting out that we need to do it more proactively."

Climbing walls were the second most common choice for both YMCAs and health clubs. Seidler said there were a couple of things to keep in mind when planning to add a climbing wall.

"One of the really important considerations with a climbing wall is that it should be designed by somebody who has the expertise to do it," he explained. "We've seen people just go in and slap up a wall and try to figure it out themselves."

Supervision is another key consideration, Seidler said. "Sometimes the climbing wall is put in the very front of the facility to try to attract people in, and sometimes it's hidden way in the back," he said. "During the planning process, you've got to give a lot of thought to the supervision of it. Is there a way to close it off when you don't want people to climb on it? This is especially important if you've got kids in the facility. If the kids get access to it and there's no one to tell them not to use it, how are you going to deal with the result of that?"