Guest Column - April 2008
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Design Corner: Open for Business

Wrapping Up a Revamp by Memorial Day

By Tom LaLonde

ublic park and recreation professionals charged with managing a project to renovate or replace an outdoor aquatic facility would be well advised to embrace practical design development and construction scheduling strategies to meet goals that will allow them to open their new facility in time to achieve maximum season operation.

Given the multitude of factors that can affect the pace of progress of a pool project, park agency leaders and facility directors need to line up resources and adopt a realistic timetable to accomplish key project objectives—and, in turn, meet important revenue goals to support operation of their new aquatic facility in its important inaugural year.

Operating under an established revenue formula, most public pools have a two-week window for opening, which generally occurs from the last week of May through the first week of June. Understanding this, as well as the time it takes to renovate or build a new pool, can help agencies establish a timeline to accomplish the necessary steps to hit their scheduling goal.

Finding Funding

Up front, park and recreation agencies or departments will need to determine the level of public involvement necessary to advance the concept of a new aquatic facility. Aside from ascertaining whether or not a public referendum will be required to approve the project, an effort to collect public input to test ideas and identify facility wants and needs will likely be in order. In addition to studying national trends in aquatics facility design, community surveys and forums are helpful tools in executing this important initial phase.

Unless an agency has money in the bank, funds will need to be raised. To acquire this essential resource, a district or municipality might levy a tax, seek grant funding or launch a fund-raising drive to tap donors in the community. A combination of any or all of these efforts, of course, might be put into gear.

In pursuing grant opportunities, an agency will need to figure out what in the way of documentation it may need to file or submit, and whether available staff has the time and capabilities to prepare the material. If not, the agency will have to hire outside assistance, a process that could add time to the overall project. All these steps need to have realistic timeframes attached to them and be factored into the big picture.

Engaging a Design Team

Prior to seeking public endorsement for an aquatic complex development, many park and recreation agencies engage an architect to develop a concept for the project. Through a master-planning process, an architect will assess the site or sites being considered for the complex, community demographics and amenities to potentially incorporate into the facility along with their associated costs. Development of a master plan that takes public input into consideration can take approximately three to six months.

An agency might already have a relationship with a design firm that has the expertise to perform the work necessary for the project. If not, the agency will need to solicit statements of qualifications to identify qualified architects. After drafting and issuing a request for qualifications, responses to it must be reviewed, and subsequent interviews conducted with the top firms that have been identified will likely take place.

Finally, once the preferred firm is selected, an agreement and appropriate fees will need to be negotiated. This process alone can take as long as three to four months to complete. Alternatively, an architecture firm confident that conditions of "good faith" will govern the relationship might get started working as soon as it receives of a letter of agreement from the client.

All things considered, the process to achieve an approved final facility design could span six to nine months, depending on the degree of complexity and size of the complex envisioned. As a general guideline, owners eyeing a spring construction startup with bidding by trades to occur in January or February should, ideally, have the architect on board the previous April.