Feature Article - July 2008
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Splash City Roadmap

Trends in Aquatic Design & Programming

By Kate Bongiovanni

Design for the Dollar

Growth in municipal aquatic centers can be attributed to the types of attractions available at the parks and their draw to all ages.

"Basically you want to make sure you appeal to all age demographics," said Randy Mendioroz, founding principal of Aquatic Design Group. "You want something for the toddler, the pre-teen, the teens, the moms and dads, and the grandmas and grandpas." The highest return rate is among the 12- to 18-year-old crowd, so facilities want to have waterslides, wet play structures and other features that teens will come back for over and over.

Mendioroz recommends that facilities have at least one waterslide—"the more the better," he said—a wet play structure and an area set aside for little kids, either a splash pad or a wading pool. "It's always preferred to have a separate pool for the little children," he said. While it's beneficial from an operational standpoint—facilities only have to shut down a portion of the park if there's an infant bathroom accident—the ability to create separate pools and additional structures at facilities ultimately comes down to budget. But when budgets and department approvals allow, Mendioroz said that facilities can also include therapy pools that seniors can use for water aerobics, or that offer a lap swimming or fitness component.

"Generally, the family-friendly aquatic center has literally something for everyone if the public agency or developer can afford it," he said.

And these days, designs are becoming more sophisticated and going beyond the simple six- or eight-lane pool as aquatic demands grow. "With the advent of the private-sector waterparks and the pressure that's on public-sector agencies to improve their cost recovery, what we found is that you need to balance those rectilinear pool spaces with some of the recreational elements, like the waterslides, the play structures, the zero-depth entries," Mendioroz said. "We have found that as you approach a 50-50 split between the rectilinear pool space and the recreation or curvilinear pool space, you have a much better chance of improving your cost recovery. You're going to be in the 70 to 80 percent cost recovery range."

In a strictly rectilinear, lap pool space, there are only so many times one can jump off a diving board or swim laps before boredom sets in and people move on to a different activity. Mendioroz explained that while other factors like location, climate and weather can alter cost recovery, generally those facilities with only rectilinear space recover 50 percent to 60 percent of their cost at best. If they balance recreation with rectilinear space, cost recovery improves to 70 percent to 80 percent. And if facilities go recreation-only, cost recovery could soar to 120 percent to 140 percent. "You're going to find that the more recreation, the better, only if cost recovery is an important part of the equation," Mendioroz added.

That doesn't mean eliminating the rectilinear pool altogether, but trying to find a way to balance the needs of the lap swimmers with the rec swimmers and keep the pool from turning into a money pit.