Feature Article - September 2018
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New Pool Rules

Passive amenities are out; floating creative water spaces can increase attendance

By Rick Dandes


Leverage Your Strengths

The more fun and interactive a facility is, the more people are going to want to be there. And if there is something there for everyone in the family, there is a tendency to not just want to go there, but also to spend more time while they are there. The good news is, the public aquatic center, out of all the options that are available to families for recreation, is by far one of the most affordable.

"No doubt our amenities are a draw to our facilities," said Gregg Gagnon, recreation superintendent, Plano, Texas. Plano lies within the Dallas multiplex area, and last year, Gagnon reported 2.4 million visitors, year-round.

Not only are inflatables a trend, he said, but also a climbing wall over deep water, which is an adventure type thing. Surf simulators are also a big draw. "Connected to our climbing wall is our Cliff Dive," he added. "Adventure-type amenities are definitely a trend with us, whether it be the [inflatables] or the climbing walls."

This is the third summer when the Plano facility has had those attractions, and they are by far the busiest areas of the pool. "We can't accommodate as many people as we'd like for the [surf simulator], cliff dives and climbing walls at those pools, so there are lines there all the time," Gagnon said. "Our lazy river of course can hold more people at once."

In Plano, lazy rivers are also now more than just "lazy," given wave generators that are available now. You can have a wild river or adventure river for people who are so inclined. Another thing Gagnon is seeing are adventure courses, almost an adventure playground, where you have wet and dry stations in a course. "The challenges would be a bit more adventurous and athletic," he said. "There is no doubt about it that American Ninja Warrior has become a great influence in what people want and what we want to offer our community."

The more fun and interactive a facility is, the more people are going to want to be there. And if there is something there for everyone in the family, there is a tendency to not just want to go there, but also to spend more time while they are there. The good news is, the public aquatic center, out of all the options that are available to families for recreation, is by far one of the most affordable.

In every municipality, you always have to consider every demographic group, Gagnon advised. "Families will come to our facility and they might bring along a teenager, an 8- or 9-year-old, and a toddler. We try to have something for everybody, amenities that they all can participate in. For example, we just added a third slide. We realized we didn't have a slide that could accommodate a certain height, for someone not quite as tall as the height minimum for other slides. We added one for someone 42 inches tall, and that has become very popular. It gives that 8-, 9-year-old kid who isn't quite tall enough, something to do, rather than just jumping into the water or going around a lazy river."

Plano does not do a lot of promotions. The municipality is fortunate in that the facility is extremely busy, particularly in the summer. "We just don't have to do promotions with our outdoor facility," Gagnon said. "But it is something we are definitely looking at. Especially with the [surf simulator]. We are thinking about programs for people with disabilities or injured vets. We've learned that it can help vets to regain their balance. People may have lost a limb, so there is an adaptive [surf simulator] that is very appealing to us. We have been looking at offering special times for that market."

Therapy recreation, it's called, and wounded warriors or children with special needs is a market Plano wants to include. "Also, some of these kids might not want to be around a large group of people so we'll give them special times to enjoy the facility. Maybe early morning times."

The contrast between Plano's facilities—there are 15 pools—and their attendance numbers, and smaller municipalities such as Sunbury, is significant in terms of funding, but their key issues are surprisingly similar: engage and please your clientele, grow your attendance and be financially viable.