Supplement Feature - February 2015
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A Pool for Every Purpose

Multi-Use Pools Provide Space for Competition, Leisure

By Joe Bush

At least one expert says that large multi-use pools may be the way of the future for colleges, park districts and health clubs.

Justin Caron, vice president of San Diego-based Aquatic Design Group (ADG) envisions that organizations with multiple pools will consolidate into fewer sites with larger and more versatile facilities, while taking into consideration families who want lessons and fun, fitness folks who want to lap swim, local schools and clubs who want a viable competitive space, and an aging population who likes water exercise and therapy.

While consolidation can pay off in the long run with better uses for former pool properties and revenue from a pool scheduled full daily, designing a space that has something for everyone is not easy. What shape should the pools be, what depth, what temperature? Is there equipment that can lend flexibility to a pool, so it can shift from recreational to competitive, or include both simultaneously? Where is best for hot tubs, slides, basketball hoops, climbing walls?

Caron's company specializes in architecture and engineering for three main clients: high schools, college rec centers, and municipalities. Caron said college and university recreational centers are great studies in maximizing a facility to please as many groups as possible.

"College athletic budgets are shrinking or focusing on revenue-producing sports such as football and basketball, or Title IX sports," Caron said. "Things like competition pools aren't quite as prevalent as they used to be, but college rec centers are exploding in popularity, and aquatics are a big component of that.

"Student funds are paying for student rec centers, and the majority of college-age students aren't going to decide to go to a school for which these rec centers are becoming recruiting tools because it has the nice lap pool. They are very interested in what I would call sexy water—things with vertical elements such as climbing walls and water features that stand out."

A 2013 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled "College as Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students' Preferences for Consumption?" revealed that most students seem to value college consumption amenities, including spending on student activities, sports and dormitories, while those that value a school's academic quality are the minority, high-achieving students.

A New York Times article from September 2014 highlighted schools large and small —LSU, Missouri State, Auburn, Pensacola Christian College—spending big for waterpark-type facilities. For example, ADG has been helping North Dakota State with a project set to break ground this year that will include unique features like a vortex pool, a rain curtain that falls on people sitting in lounge chairs, a zip line, a central fire pit and a bubble bench. The last is an aeration system "so bubbles will caress your skin from underneath," Caron said.

The same facility will have a six-lane lap pool for intramural activities and fitness swimming, and some deep water for scuba.

"That's what the college rec market is going for: individualization, customization," Caron explained. "What does this space do for our students, who are paying for it? It's a place to get fit and be fit and be healthy and also socially healthy."

David C. Dennis is the campus recreation director at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. In 2012, UCA began renovating and adding to its Health Physical Education Recreation (HPER) Center, including plans for some type of water recreation. The original drawings called for two pools, a 25-yard pool for serious swimming, and one for recreation, but during budgeting talks, one pool was taken away. Dennis and his staff had to decide which would stay.

"We decided our best course would be to include the 25-yard lap pool," he said. "This seemed to be a better option for us because we could have a nice lap pool and also include some recreational components for students to enjoy. We felt both aspects contribute to student overall health."

The pool, designed and overseen by Counsilman-Hunsaker, has six lanes, equipment for water basketball and water volleyball, a 1-meter diving board, and a climbing wall. Dennis said 25 yards was ideal for available land and costs, the distance is fine for non-competitive lap swimmers, and 25 yards is the competitive distance for the local high school that uses the pool for practice and meets.

Scott Hester, president at St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker, said water depth and temperature are crucial to pleasing fitness and competitive swimmers and those who use the pool for recreation and therapy. The compromise is especially difficult if only one pool is available. He said competitive swimmers want temperatures between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cold for recreational use. He says 82 is a good middle ground.