Feature Article - May 2017
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Evolving Aquatics

Trends in Municipal Aquatic Facility Design

By Deborah L. Vence

Concessions are a nice amenity, too. "Offering foodservice within the facility keeps the patrons from leaving, and the concession/shade area is a perfect opportunity for families to gather," LaLonde said, adding that rental cabanas are gaining in popularity, too, as a place families can congregate throughout the time they are at the pool. In turn, it brings in additional revenue.

Community members are looking for a facility that allows them to monitor children of different ages at the same time.

"By placing amenities, such that a parent can watch the toddler in the spray play area and the older children on a slide, makes for a more enjoyable, relaxing day," Klarck said.

Moreover, community members also expect a variety of experiences to keep them entertained. Examples of this include the drop slide, waterslide, current channel, lap swimming, exercise programs, lily pad walk, spray features, zip line, concessions, etc.

As a general rule, municipal aquatic facilities typically appeal to a certain age group (parents with toddlers, elementary school children). "Once the children reach a certain age they are typically involved in other activities, diminishing the time available to visit the local aquatic park," LaLonde said.

"We have found that facilities that add and promote new amenities every three to five years continually have good attendance," he added. "It is important for municipalities to revisit the amenities offered at their facility every few years in order to add interest to keep attendees returning and continually attract new visitors."

Design Challenges

The approval process for any aquatic development or expansion presents its own challenges, and never truer than "in the municipal setting when dealing with the necessary red tape requirements and town codes," Mahoney said.

"Working with a developer that understands the codes and how to navigate the process is essential for a smooth project transition," she said.

"The right company can also help with providing the right training and operational management guidelines, from setting up lifeguard skills clinics to operating and maintaining your wave system in a wave pool or river attraction," Mahoney added. "And, a clear understanding of staffing needs at the outset allows the municipality to prepare for the hiring and budgeting process to run and maintain the park."

As greater demands are put on hours and the number of people using an aquatic facility, control of water quality becomes more challenging.

"Many aquatic centers operate seven days a week with little or no time for preventative maintenance," Berkshire said.

In that case, "Systems must be designed to operate at such levels," he said. "Automated systems have the ability to monitor conditions of a facility or pool water and automatically make adjustments for quality control. Some of these systems can become complicated and difficult for staff [to] operate. A successful system is one that the staff can fully understand and operate."

Berkshire also said it is unacceptable to say that "poor air or water quality is simply due to more use (over-use) than expected. Systems must be oversized to plan ahead for such use."

Meanwhile, Sells suggested that proper aquatic construction requires industry specialized companies.

"New aquatic construction is flourishing, and as such, the opportunity exists for companies with marginal aquatic construction experience to secure build contracts, often resulting in substandard facilities," he said.

Proper aquatic construction is expensive, and the cost of construction and operation must be understood by the community thoroughly prior to moving forward with that type of project. Municipalities constantly are pressured to incorporate sustainable design into their projects. Securing the proper design team to facilitate a responsible design in an efficient way is not only desirable, but also can minimize operating costs.

Automated mechanical rooms have simplified the filtering operation and stabilized the treatment of the water, allowing for fewer maintenance staff. Operational safety and consistent water quality continue to be the ongoing challenge in any aquatic venue.

Valdez added that some issues and challenges today include the "current rise of construction costs and the challenge for communities to make the proper investments in maintenance to continue operation through the expected lifespan of the aquatic facility."

So, municipalities need to determine how to pay for construction.

"The upfront cost for aquatic facilities is significant. In Illinois, grant funding has dried up, which makes it more difficult to fund," LaLonde said.