Supplement Feature - February 2010
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Raging Waters

Economy's Tumult Drives Aquatic Facility Plans

By Daniel P. Smith

Spotted 30 minutes southwest of Chicago's urban core, Woodridge, Ill., is a suburban enclave for the city's middle-class. With its strip centers and chain restaurants, the characteristic signs of suburbia blanket the area, giving the village of 30,000 an air of Anytown, USA. Amid the routine, however, stands an attraction that pulls visitors into the suburb's boundaries, inviting guests to enjoy slices of the summertime fun.

Since its opening in 1997, the Cypress Cove Family Aquatic Center has been heralded as one of Chicagoland's most unique and distinctive public swimming facilities. Visitors have poured into the 8-acre park from all corners of the Chicago area, wowed by the facility's tempting atmosphere and entertaining climate.

In 2006, village officials and park district representatives began discussing renovations to the then-9-year-old facility.

"The idea was to keep it interesting and fresh by adding new features every two years, but that just didn't happen," Cypress Cove Family Aquatic Center Supervisor Amanda Nichols said.

When plans surfaced to demolish Woodridge's other public swimming facility—the Hobson Pool, a small, outdated lap pool long operating in the red—Cypress Cove staff not only had ammunition to make their renovation wishes come true, but an emerging plan for their remodel.

"We had money slotted for the work, but, most importantly, we saw a need for a lap pool facility when Hobson closed," Nichols said.

In August 2008, the Woodridge Park District broke ground for its revamped $3.5 million family aquatic complex. On its existing land, Cypress Cove added a 25-yard, six-lane lap pool with ADA accessible ramp, a 5,260-square-foot spray play area, and a tot slide, a strategic addition for a facility with little to offer children under 42 inches.

Yet, merely opening the revamped facility wasn't enough, particularly as the economy's troubles hit a crescendo in late 2008 and the general populace tightened their spending in hopes that others, including government and business, would do the same. Even though Cypress Cove has not received tax dollars, there remained an overriding sense that the village and its park district needed to justify its ambitious project.

From park districts and colleges to YMCAs and school districts, aquatic centers across the country have had similar concerns in recent months. In this era of financial strain, some aquatic centers have halted plans for new facilities, modified existing plans, turned toward renovation rather than new construction, or, at the minimum, felt compelled to validate the expenditure, all realities that have impacted aquatic design, implementation and a facility's introduction to the public.

The biggest trend in today's aquatic center world has less to do with innovative, exciting design features and more to do with creating strategic, well-conceived and financially efficient projects the public will embrace.

"Right now, I don't know if there are any design trends. The cities just don't have the money," Yarger Design Group President Bill Yarger said. "The bigger question [leaders] are asking is: Can we justify this project?"