Feature Article - May 2018
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Swimming Ahead

New Currents in Natatorium Design

By Dave Ramont

Add Some Fun

As far as "watertainment" features, Schwartz said there's still great interest in sprays, slides and interactive features. "But they do add to the humidity, they do add to the load that the HVAC system must be designed for, so this has to be carefully planned."

Whiteaker described how lazy rivers, a popular waterpark feature, have moved indoors and become a universally appealing amenity, with teenagers using them to float around and socialize while water exercisers utilize the fitness aspects. "There are user groups that want to do aqua fitness but don't necessarily want to get their hair wet. So they can walk and talk and have a fun time."

For facilities without the space or budget for a lazy river, Schwartz said the so-called current channels are a good alternative, which are smaller but still have the moving water. "You don't float in rafts because they're too small, but kids take noodles in there and bounce along, or folks can walk or swim against the current or turn the current off and have lessons in the standing water."

As far as waterslides, Schwartz said they're seeing a bigger demand for family slides. "The slides are wider, they're not as tall and they work in a little bit shallower water, but multiple people can go down at one time."

All of our experts agree that one huge challenge for natatoriums is air quality inside the facility. Air quality and humidity are the key challenges for indoor facilities.

Whiteaker explained how in the past, waterslides sometimes incorporated competition components to time you or clock your speed. "Well now, coming from Europe and Asia, we're starting to see waterslides that have LED screens, so you can set a theme where you push a button and it could be a blizzard theme or a nautical theme where you're sliding down and can actually see fish swimming over the top of you, or looking forward it looks like you're going to fly into a shark's mouth." The next user might experience a freight train or race car theme. "So there's lots of those interactive type devices that are becoming more desired by facilities today so they can have better entertainment durability for their clients," Whiteaker said.

But, Whiteaker added, having larger play amenities requires more lifeguard staff—one of a facility's largest operational costs. For instance, the inflatable obstacle courses have to be taken out, blown up, set up, disassembled, deflated and stored. "So some facilities say let's not put the big structures in, let's use more transparent structures that you can see through and we can minimize our staff costs."

Whiteaker said that not only are facilities now using basketball hoops and volleyball nets that can retract into the ceiling, but also the ninja warrior courses and similar components, and lifeguards can more easily see underneath them, maintaining a visual connection with users. "So it's just a pushing of a button that brings them down into the play zone. It's easy to do multiple times during the day, maybe using half the pool for lap swimming and half for the play features."

One feature still in demand is the classic diving board. Schwartz said that as a patron grows up, they experiment and develop diving skills. "It's a changed experience as they age, and you can't say that about a lot of things. It's one thing that's not going away."

Whiteaker agreed, describing how every time you go off a diving board, it's a unique experience. "You could do a cannonball or dive, try to make a small or a big splash. It's great for that hard-to-appeal-to age group—late tweens and teens. It becomes a friendly competition."

The Air in There

Accessibility issues are important discussions for indoor pools, since you want to be universally appealing while still utilizing precious space.

All of our experts agree that one huge challenge for natatoriums is air quality inside the facility. "Air quality and humidity are the key challenges for indoor facilities," Clawson said. "The sad fact is that many facilities suffer from poor air handling, which causes significant corrosion problems."

He said proper water chemistry maintenance is essential to good air quality, since air quality problems start with water quality problems. "We've all walked into an indoor pool and been bowled over by the strong chlorine smell, which is indicative of high combined chlorine (chloramines) and not actually the free active chlorine."

Schwartz explained that chloramines are the result of organics that people bring to the water combined with chlorine. As the chloramines become more volatile, they come out of the water, causing the smell, as well as breathing issues or skin rashes. Once they get into the air, the only treatment is to evacuate the air.

"That's an energy negative," Schwartz said. "You're trying to heat the air and keep it in there. So the best thing you can do is treat the water."

Traditionally, you might super-chlorinate to treat this problem; add more chlorine to oxidize those chloramines. But Schwartz said that's more difficult now as chloramines are used for public water disinfection, so every time you backwash and add water for evaporation, you're adding chloramines. "The most effective thing we've found is to add a UV (ultraviolet) system on the treatment of the water and that will oxidize those chloramines." He said that older facilities that add these systems experience much better air quality within weeks.

Whiteaker said that as facilities are more often becoming destinations for wellness and fitness activities, managers are asking how they can get the very best air quality at the lowest operational expense. "So doing things like a medium pressure UV, which is supplemental sanitation to support the levels of chlorine, is really important. Doing source capture, where you capture the bad air down at the water/air interface so you can remove that out of the building. You can have the very best indoor pool, but if it's not appealing to people because the smell or their eyes are burning, then you've spent a lot of money that doesn't achieve the goals set forth by the community."