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UNC Greensboro Aquatics Go Green

By Mike Fowler

There is a growing trend among athletic aquatic facilities to install eco-friendly pool equipment designed to lower operating costs by lowering energy consumption. Swimming pool pump rooms are among the areas most scrutinized when facilities undergo energy audits due to the amount of energy consumed by pumps, filters and even pool lighting. The University of North Carolina in Greensboro (UNCG) was updating its aquatic center and not only wanted to redesign the facility to better serve the needs of the population it serves, but also wanted to do so with the most energy-efficient equipment to control operating costs.

UNCG, like many universities, needed to improve its student recreation and wellness centers. This trend began about 10 years ago with the explosion of the "arms race" of student recreation centers—as recreation centers became more architecturally attractive with facilities that are used as showcase facilities to attract new students. An awareness grew that not only is physical health important but mental and emotional health are just as important to the student body. This changed the old-school gyms with weights and tracks into all-encompassing wellness centers with social centers, dieticians, counselors and spaces to do physical activity.

The Design

In the case of UNCG, there was a student-led referendum and bond for the creation of the Kaplan center for wellness. RDG Planning & Design was the architect of record, and Aquatic Design Group worked closely with the architect to create this space that met all the criteria required by the university. The contactor selected for the building of the pools was Paddock.

The aquatic center is an indoor facility with large windows comprised of two separate bodies of water. A larger, 25-meter swimming pool for lap swimming and other aquatic activities and a second leisure pool that offers several unique features that provide social and leisure desired by the student community.

The Big Pool:

The university does not have a competitive swim team. As a result, in lieu of a regulation competitive pool, a 25-by-25-foot pool was built to allow for lap swimming, as well as programming like kayaking, scuba and paddle-boarding courses. In addition, this pool can be rented out for community swim meets, providing additional income for the center while also actively engaging the community.

The Leisure Pool:

The students also wanted the aquatic facility to embody more of a resort feel, and thus the leisure pool was created with many typical resort-style features, such as a water lounge ledge where students and faculty can sit in water but still work on their tablets or mobile devices. "In addition we included a vortex feature, which is a semi-circle in which the water moves around creating a type of current for users to walk against the current," said Justin Caron, principal at Aquatic Design Group. Caron explained that the feature is unique because the vortex/current can be turned on or off as desired. This allows users to do physical therapy when walking against the current. When the feature is turned off, the area remains a calm, shallow body of water in which people can lounge.

In fact, a seat bench was designed into this area and it faces a large video board where movies and sports are shown, allowing users to sit in the leisure pool to watch the video board. The video board also features school announcements and the like, and doubles as a scoreboard when the university hosts local community swim meets for high school and younger ages.

The leisure pool also has an ADA-compliant beach entry that was designed with curves into the pool partly because of a lack of deck space. It works well not only because it's ADA compliant, but helpful to people with mobility issues, injury or those who just want to enter the water slowly.

The leisure pool also includes a basketball hoop and a volleyball net designed to create that fun, resort-like atmosphere.

The Pump Room

The pump room was placed beneath the pools in order to save energy. Pumps are great at pushing water up and pull water down poorly. Therefore, by putting the pump room below the pool, the water flows downward using gravity rather than power. Known as a flooded suction pump design, this type of pump and system is able to reduce its energy consumption by more than 50 percent compared to a self-priming pump system.

The equipment used in the pump room all contributed to the LEED Gold rating for the facility. Aquatic Design Group always works to create the most energy-efficient and most water-efficient systems possible within the constraints of the project.

As with all new aquatic centers, the equipment selected to operate the pools is key to the long-term success of the facility. "We used very specific criteria when selecting the pump room equipment," said Caron. In evaluating each piece of equipment, Aquatic Design Group applied three main criteria:

  1. Local availability: not only its proximity to the facility itself, but how easily the equipment can be serviced, and how readily available parts are available for equipment maintenance.
  2. Warranties on each piece of pump room equipment
  3. Overall life-cycle costs, from the front-end costs to the efficiency of operation and life expectancy of the equipment.

In this case, much of the equipment specified and used was supplied by Pentair. "The equipment met our three criteria being in close proximity to UNCG, offers excellent warranties and provided the best value according to our calculations," Caron said.

As always, this project went through the public bid process and Paddock Pools was awarded the job. In addition to the items originally specified, Paddock also added their stainless steel gutter and air handling systems.