Supplement Feature - February 2009
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Sink or Swim

Aquatic Operations Adjust With the Times

By Emily Tipping

Economic Woes

Many factors are competing to put pressure on aquatic facilities. You might find it challenging just to maintain your budget.

The biggest impact on pools has been felt in the residential market, as new construction starts have crawled to a standstill. But Tom Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), added that he is hearing more about new and planned aquatic facilities feeling the impact of the crunch.

On the other hand, Lachocki pointed to some positives. "With a down economy," he said, "more people may be looking for local facilities for entertainment and exercise. We need to be preparing for doing the best we can, and also preparing for an upturn."

He added that this is no time to hold back on the operational issues. That means continuing to invest in keeping your water free of disease and fun for the public. But for many facilities, adding new amenities to increase the fun may represent a challenge. The good news is that there are some simple ways to bring more fun to your facility without breaking the bank.

One example lets you use inflatable elements to outfit your pool for an aquatic competition suitable for all ages. According to Robert Cirjak, CEO of the company that makes these inflatables, there is a variety of games and events designed around the products that "promote social interaction, balance, coordination and motor skill development for children of all ages, something that is sadly lacking in today's electronic world."

Slides and other water-play elements are also relatively inexpensive additions.

Other facilities are looking for ways to adapt their pools that may be losing money. In some cases, they're removing in-ground pools and installing spraygrounds.

"More communities are looking at closing pools and putting in a splash pad," said Jay Byrd, vice president of sales and marketing for a manufacturer of splash play products.

In Wooster, Ohio, for example, the city had three pools, one of which was struggling. The city replaced that pool with a splash play area, and now the new attraction is outperforming the two remaining pools, Byrd said.

Some benefits of splash play? It's a lower outright investment than building a collection of pools, yes, but it also comes with lower long-term costs.

"You don't have the liability," Byrd said, which can save thousands in insurance costs. Why? There's no risk of drowning. What's more, you don't have to pay to staff the facility with lifeguards.

And if you have a pool that's sinking into the red, a sprayground lets you continue to provide water recreation to the community.

Byrd further added that many park directors are reporting that while they still want to make improvements and add aquatic options, they don't have the budget even to support a full sprayground. He pointed to misting as an option for these facilities. It represents a much smaller investment than a full splash play area, but still gives patrons a chance to cool off and have some fun in the water.

"People are looking to still have that water element, but spend less money," Byrd said. But he added that there are still plenty of agencies with projects that represent substantial investments.