Guest Column - March 2011
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Design Corner

Making Aquatics More Cost-Effective

By David Schwartz

How can you make an aquatic facility cost-effective? We hear that question more frequently now, especially in the current economy. Planning a new facility, renovating an existing pool or adding a spray park gives you an opportunity to make cost-effective decisions, but where do you begin? Additionally, what operational and maintenance plans will be effective for the long term? We offer several suggestions, including practical, easy-to-use ideas, to help give you positive answers to the above questions.

Operation Considerations

As a pool operator, manager or owner, you may be facing attendance figures far below your pool capacity. Your income may be less than your expenses. What are your choices? Should you raise pool fees? Are you considering closing your pool? These are basic business questions that you may be asked to answer whether you are planning a new or renovated facility or simply trying to maintain what you currently have.

There are several items that affect acceptance of an aquatic facility in any community. You will not have control over the current demographics, adjacent land use, facility access or the other issues that either encourage or deter attendance. You do have control over your management and administration style at your pool. The fee options, concession menu, hours of operation, program offerings and related items should each be evaluated for how well they serve your community.

Older pools may have no entrance fees or offer a fee of $1 or less to help out the low-income patrons. This is an appropriate public goal, but this can be accomplished in other ways that help your bottom line. Consider "scholarships" for kids on assisted school lunch programs. This way you know who needs help and either the city or local service organizations can fund the scholarship pool passes.

Aggressively market pool passes and get creative with the options. Consider weekly and monthly passes in addition to season passes. Offer discount fees for residents as opposed to higher fees for non-residents. This is a subtle positive sales technique.

Your greatest line item cost will be for personnel. Carefully staff your facility for safety, but do not overstaff your pool. Weather and attendance affect your operating costs somewhat. There is a base level of cost you will need just to open your pool, regardless of attendance.

After you streamline your staffing and management plan, the most cost-effective thing you can do is to increase attendance. For the most part, as attendance grows, your operating costs stay nearly the same. This means you should plan to renovate or enhance your aquatic facility.