Supplement Feature - February 2018
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Profitable Pools

Strategies for Designing Pools to Stay Out of the Red

By Deborah L. Vence


When it comes to strategies, Post said the first goal is to determine what the profitability goal is.

"Most communities don't need a pool to be profitable, but rather sustainable," he said. "They see it as a community benefit that deserves community funding support, but that cost needs to be within reason. Private and non-profit groups have different goals for revenue and profitability in order to meet their mission and objectives."

Then, once the goal has been determined, a plan for what pool programs and services are needed to support that goal should be outlined.

"Some areas that improve financial success include lesson programming, recreational amenities, birthday parties and children's attractions. Areas that typically require a subsidy include community rental space and senior programming," he said.

And, once you have determined the mix of programs you need to meet operational goals, a pool can be designed that offers the appropriate space for capacity/demand, depths, temperatures, and access to offer those programs, in the most efficient manner.

He noted an example of a community in Hatfield, Pa., that needed a new pool.

"[The] old neighborhood pool did not meet the needs of the community. They did around 22,000 visits seasonally and charged around $6 for admission," he said. "A community study was done to determine what a new pool would look like. The outcome was a stretch 25-yard pool that offered all deep water for events, but also offered shallow water for programs."

In addition, a new leisure pool with waterslides, zero-depth entry, and warmer/shallower water was added.

"The new pool saw more than 50,000 visits during its first summer of operation, with an admission cost of around $8," he said.

In another example, in Baytown, Texas, the old Baytown pool was a basic neighborhood pool that was falling into disrepair. The pool only charged 50 cents for entry, but still only saw a few visitors per day.

"A new pool that offered water park style attractions, but at an affordable rate, was a strong desire of the community," Post said. "The new family aquatic center generates a significant profit for the community and helps fund the use of a smaller community pool and city spraygrounds."

Collegiate Facilities

Designing and planning collegiate facilities can take a different approach than municipal pools.

"The biggest difference is the student activity fees that are assessed and how those dollars go towards off-setting operational expenses," Barr said. "This impacts the level of need for non-student members, programming revenue, and rental revenue. That level of need for revenue generation then impacts the size of the facility and the amenities that are included."

Caron noted that the first thing is to understand if you are looking at an athletic facility, a recreation facility or combination of the two.

"Those things play out very differently in the facility design. An athletic facility will most likely need to meet NCAA, FINA, etc. regulations and be your typical box pool. A recreational facility will have more flexibility in the design. A combination may include both in the same body of water or may include multiple pools in the facility," she said.

"In my experience, collegiate facilities almost always include a recreational facility and have some great designs. They oftentimes get their student populations involved in the designs which is why you see unique features," Caron said.

"If you are considering getting student populations involved, I recommend doing a brainstorming session with them during your master planning and then letting them help select a final design--provide two to three designs from them to select from," she added. "If you include them in the in-between you are going to add time to your project and you will have experts to take you from master plan to design.

"Depending on where the facility falls in the organizational structure of the university, you are also looking at very different budgetary conditions than many municipal facilities," Caron said.

Hester said designing a collegiate aquatic center must take into consideration that the primary users of the facility will be between the ages of 18 to 25.

"While in most collegiate facilities the university and college staff, community members, local clubs and other groups may be users of the facility, in most cases the capital funding source as well as ongoing operational support comes directly from student fees," Hester said.

"In these instances, providing an experience that is targeted to their specific age group will be critical to the long-term success of the aquatic facility. Therefore," he added, "considerations for a wide array of recreational aquatic programming, combined with the potential use from club sports is generally seen as the primary users of collegiate and university pools."

He also noted that active water spaces in a collegiate aquatic center include moving water for recreation, open water for water basketball, volleyball, kayaking, battleship and underwater hockey, lap lanes used for aquatic club sports as well as fitness training and springboard diving. In addition, passive water spaces are a much needed component.

"It's important to remember these water spaces provide the opportunity for users to utilize the aquatic center than for nothing more than to see and be seen, and to socialize with friends," he said.

"We've also seen a much greater attention to detail when it comes to finishes of the pool area. Creating a space that includes finishes similar to what may be found in a resort or private club has become much higher in priority than what was considered even 10 years ago," he added.

"Students desire their fees for building and operating an aquatic center result in an experience they would find outside of the collegiate and university environment," Hester said. "Additionally, these spaces are used as prime recruiting tools for prospective students."