Feature Article - September 2008
Find a printable version here

Schooled in Aquatics

Waterpark Trends from the College Campus to the Municipal Center

By Dawn Klingensmith

Going Dry

Faced with increased competition and to achieve broader market appeal, aquatic facilities of all stripes and sizes are adding "dry" elements and activities, which increases stay times and, in turn, concession sales and other revenues.

"At water resorts, two and a half to three hours is the typical timeframe that people stay in the water," Nodorft said, "so waterpark resorts are trying various things to capture families for the entire day."

The inclusion of "dry" playgrounds, sit-down restaurants, indoor carnivals, arcades, bowling alleys, movie theaters and miniature golf courses might just do the trick. The Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells features an indoor dry complex with a six-story Ferris wheel, laser tag, a ropes course and a go-kart track.

Coco Key Water Resort in Arlington Heights, Ill., created the position of "director of memories and experiences" to develop activities for younger guests, including face painting and hair art, soap making, and opportunities to sit for a caricaturized family portrait.

"Water is still the primary amenity of the property," Nodorft said, "but waterpark resorts are starting to realize that there needs to be more."

At the same time dry elements increase stay times, they also decrease operational costs because they require less staff to supervise and less energy to operate and maintain.

Going Green

A design and operating philosophy centered on "going green" also is taking root in the aquatics industry. "The necessary technology is coming into the industry to address concerns like water consumption and energy use," Nodorft said.

Regenerative media filters, for example, "allow for a small amount of water to be backwashed or discharged during the filtration process," he said.

In addition, some aquatic facilities have switched from a chlorine-based sanitation system to a salt-based system, which uses less water and results in a lesser buildup of solids so the water actually stays clearer for longer periods.

According to Nodorft, there's a small movement afoot calling for pool covers to reduce evaporation rates.

Intended to be an exemplar of green design, Valley of the Springs Resort, under construction in French Lick, Ind., and projected to open by the end of the year, will pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recognition. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary certification process promoting the design and construction of sustainable buildings. To qualify for LEED certification, a built environment must perform well in the following areas: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, sustainable site development and water savings.

According to H&LA, if Valley of the Springs succeeds, it will be the first indoor waterpark resort to attain LEED certification. (Some smaller aquatic facilities have done so already.) The resort will use cutting-edge water filtration technology to cut back on chlorine and water consumption and also will feature the largest retractable roof ever constructed.

With more and more universities expressing a commitment to green construction in general, in the coming years, this segment can be expected to assume a leading role in marrying eco-friendly design in aquatics in particular, which is yet another reason that—of the three major segments in the aquatics industry—the university segment might be the one that's most interesting to watch.