Feature Article - May 2014
Find a printable version here

Water, for Profits

Aquatic Design Meets Community & Budgetary Needs

By Rick Dandes

People today, perhaps more than ever before, are placing greater demands on their community officials for quality aquatic and recreational facilities and programs. And, according to aquatic design experts, there seems to be little differentiation in expectation, whether a facility is operated as a municipal, nonprofit or private entity. These changes, however, are having a direct financial impact on those park and recreation facilities that have yet to be built, or have not yet been completely modified to meet both community needs and government safety regulations.

"Unlike the old days, when many municipal pools were built as a free service to the community," explained Justin Caron, vice president, Aquatic Design Group, Carlsbad, Calif., "managers of today's municipal pool facilities and their taxpayer users recognize that a modern pool facility is something that needs to be self-sufficient in terms of cost. What that means to aquatic designers, from a trend standpoint, is that we must focus on designing pools that can offer programs to offset oblique programs like water polo, and diving—which require large pools and don't make money—by coming up with solutions that bring in people and revenue."

The days are gone when people entertained themselves all summer long in one long rectangular community swimming pool. Interactive recreation-driven aquatic centers have become the norm since the 1980s and 1990s. And although outdoor facilities have a much shorter swimming season, many of these municipal pools are bundled with indoor aquatic centers for year-round fitness and amusement. By necessity, facility designs are innovative, morphing into water wonderlands, taking their cues from indoor European public pools and outdoor resort pools. Large free-form bodies of water sweep across the American landscape, and most without a spectacular view, creating art forms in themselves.

Today's families, from tots to baby boomers, recreate together and expect areas and amenities that cater to each age bracket. Municipal pools understand that they must continue to offer lap swimming, but operators also know that revenue significantly increases if they can balance competition water space with recreational water space.

For that reason, a public input process is a key component in understanding the demands, expectations and concerns of area residents and users. Almost all aquatic facility projects begin with a pre-design phase, emphasized Gregor Markel, an architect with The Dahlin Group, Pleasanton, Calif. He said that aquatic centers are fast becoming a community gathering space, a social hub that can complement other facilities in an adjacent park. Many park and recreation departments are using their aquatic facilities to create a strong sense of community pride by taking the most popular aspects of public pools and commercial waterparks to offset escalating taxes coupled with a reduction in tax bases.

A pool, for many communities, Markel noted, also provides summer employment for high school and college students. It serves as the base for most summer activities in the community, and can support other summer programs, such as a school's summer recreation, free lunch program and even fundraisers. "As designers," he said, "we need to allow space for all these possible activities."