Feature Article - January 2008
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Aquatic Programming Gets Back to Basics

By Emily Tipping

Nearly 1,700 miles away in Keller, Texas, the Keller ISD Natatorium doesn't feature a lot of bells and whistles either, though the facility opened its doors in March 2003. What it does offer is a state-of-the-art competition and training pool, featuring 25 lanes and two moveable bulkheads and fixed seating for 750 people. With a depth ranging from 6 feet 10 inches to 12 feet 6 inches, and with its three 1-meter diving boards and two 3-meter diving boards, the Keller ISD Natatorium cannot compete for recreational dollars with the city-owned facility next door, or with the NRH2O Waterpark down the road.

Instead, said Lee Feris, manager of the natatorium, they've worked to find their niche. "We've worked hard to define how we fit competitively with these waterparks and facilities that have all the bells and whistles, and then we've tried to continue to find our niche where we can satisfactorily meet our bottom line by redefining who we are," he explained. "We're a 50-meter pool. We don't have the zero-depth entry. We don't have the other amusements and attractions. So my job has been to seek out every opportunity for creating revenue streams."

When the facility was built, Feris said the mindset was that it would be a great competition and training pool, but he knew when he came on board that this would only cover a small portion of the pool's costs. "We had to be a lot more, and so we continue to identify what else we can do and how we can impact the community and become an even better voice for water education and water safety."

For any aquatic facility, the programming offered depends on the number of pools you have, as well as the water temperature and depth of those pools, Nelson said. The basics include learn-to-swim programs, adult aquatic exercise, recreational swimming, competitive swimming and aquatic rehab. By finding your own niche—and the best mix of these types of programming—you can drive more usage, and more dollars, into your facility.

"You need to decide: Do you really believe in a well-rounded aquatic program, or do you have a lopsided program?" asked John Spannuth, president and CEO of the U.S. Water Fitness Association. "I can name facilities in this country that place their whole emphasis on competition. They don't have many other types of programs. I can tell you about others with more than 100 swimming classes and not much else. They're what I call lopsided programs." Of course, how you define "well-rounded" depends a great deal on your facility's mission.

Are You Meet-Ready?

According to Mick Nelson, club facilities development director for USA Swimming, there are several things you need to do to ensure your facility is ready for a meet or competition. Here's a checklist you can use to make sure you're all set:

  • Never shock the water or increase the level of chlorine above 3.0
  • Make sure pH is 7.4
  • Make sure all air handling systems are functional with clean filters
  • Make sure all areas are clean and signs are in clear view for who belongs where in the facility
  • Assign staff jobs for customer assistance and crowd direction
  • Meet with the hose club so all responsibilities are clearly defined