Supplement Feature - February 2015
Find a printable version here

A Pool for Every Purpose

Multi-Use Pools Provide Space for Competition, Leisure

By Joe Bush

Depth issues can be handled with a movable floor, but of course that is a luxurious capital expenditure. The majority of planners have to consider depths necessary for starting blocks and kick turns, playing children, diving boards, and exercise and therapy that requires feet on the floor.

"Most competitive swimmers are going to want depths of six-plus feet throughout, and that allows you to not worry about touching the bottom and have starting blocks at both ends of the pool," Hester said. "Psychologically, swimmers feel they perform better in deeper water.

"What are you willing to accommodate on? Six-and-a-half to seven feet at one end for springboard diving and at the opposite end you'll have four feet and that allows you to do those floor-based activities. Once you solve that challenge, it's about what activities do we want to do. Is it climbing walls, is it zip lining, is it some drop slides, is it water-crossing activities, obstacle courses?"

Hester said there are a variety of choices for recreational add-ons that can either coexist with other activities or be removable when necessary. Climbing walls and basketball hoops and volleyball nets can be moved. Drop slides—straight flumes that exit a few feet from the water and feature a steep angle—in deep water take up less deck space than spiral slides. There are also zip lines, and rope swings and inflatable surface pieces tethered to the sides or bottom.

Hester's firm designed the aquatics area in the 9-year-old RecPlex at the University of Dayton. It covers the needs of the four main pool-use groups: competitive, recreational, therapy and instructional. The pool is 6,000 square feet, including an eight-lane 25-yard competitive space, a 1-meter springboard, a 32-meter vortex pool, a 1,600-foot whirlpool spa with a 15-person capacity, and a wet classroom.

Beth Keyes, the vice president of facility management for the school, said the competitive space is used by the organized sports recreation program and is rented to local high school teams. Two lanes are used for walking, and the space is available and ready for water polo play.

Keyes said the many uses allow the facility to pay for itself. There are swim lessons for the children of staff and faculty, water aerobics for the elderly, free swim time for students, and the high school team use.

"There's never a downtime because it's constantly used," she said. "All at once is typical. A lot of morning swimmers, a lot of lunchtime swimmers, a lull, and starting at 2 you can't get in that pool. It's very busy for the rest of the evening. It's a constant struggle to make everybody happy and yet pay for yourself."

Hester said in warmer year-round climates, outdoor pools should be a consideration, mainly because without a building to surround them they are cheaper to build and maintain. He said the price range for an outdoor pool is $500,000 for a six-lane 25-yard pool to $2 million to $3 million for a 50-meter pool.

"We do a lot of competitive venues outdoors, as far north as north central California," he said. "Can you use it year round in the cold-weather months? If you can that's a great solution for you. You just eliminated the expense of not only constructing a natatorium, but you also eliminated conditioning that building space year-round, cooling it in the summer or heating it in the winter."

Whatever the pool setup, managers and operators will need the structures and equipment to help all users enjoy the space. Movable bulkheads add flexibility by partitioning pools. Starting blocks can either be permanent or removable. Lane lines need reels, competitions need timing systems and flags.

Kristen Linehan Omli is the director of swimming relations for a company that sells lanes, clocks, reels, flags and goggles to competitive swimming organizations. She said the size of the pool dictates the lane line size, and the first equipment to buy includes lane lines and starting blocks.