Supplement Feature - May 2019
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New Pool Rules

The Newest Natatorium Designs Offer Something for Everyone

By Rick Dandes


Haug also has seen a lot more separation of pools, but cautions that it does come at a cost because every time you separate bodies of water you need extra filtration systems, which increases the cost to build and to operate the pools. "The latest pool that we are doing is FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park, in Westmont, Ill.," he said. FMC ("For My Children") is the name given to the facility by the owner. It is a 50-meter pool, with a warm-up pool attached to it.

"That is the big reason behind separating pools," Haug said, "because of the temperature differential. Lap swimmers want the water colder. Learn-to-swim and elderly folks like to have the water a little bit warmer, and they want more of a safe environment in which to go swimming. So pool depth is something of a concern here as well, and the second pool allows for water aerobics and things like that."

The FMC Natatorium is aiming to capitalize on the underserved community that surrounds it. "They do not have a pool other than the University of Illinois in Chicago that can hold some of these giant invitational meets," Haug said. "With independent swim teams, you have literally thousands of kids coming to compete. You also need to have sufficient spectator seating and a pool size that can accommodate these invitationals."

An important question any designer will ask is what level of competition you want to hold in your natatorium. Certain levels of competition require sufficient spectator seating, which increases incrementally. "If you have a district meet, you need to have a certain number of seats," Haug said. "And for a state meet the seating number goes twice as high. At the FMC, the seating wraps three sides of the pool and is five or six tiers deep, and we have a complete kitchen and concessions area on that level."

Get Smart

Designs for indoor municipal pools and high school and college pools are becoming similar, and this has been trending for some time, Haug noted. On occasion, he said, you'll still see a high school district building a pool at the same time a municipality is building one. "I've always felt that was kind of ridiculous," he said. "Here, within one community, two pools are built that will probably compete at some level. You have a high school pool used pretty much by the high schoolers with limited public use near a pool that could just as easily offer pool time for the high school swimmers."

Haug spent a few years designing pools in Europe where they didn't do anything like that. "Communities would build a standalone pool next to their schools," he explained, "and schools were always built on a campus. So, when kids took up swimming they walked over to the community building where the pool is located and had their lessons. The community building was open to the public all day and had lanes reserved, much as you see today in a YMCA where swim lessons are conducted. You would have lanes reserved so people could go lap swimming. You really utilized that pool to its maximum use."

Many of the RFPs Haug is seeing nowadays mirror this, with the emphasis on pools built for the entire community, rather than pools built just for a high school or other single entity.

The reasoning behind this makes sense financially. Pools are expensive to build and operate over the long term, and require a high level of maintenance.

"Everybody forgets this when they build a pool," Haug said, "but you have to hire staff to be there all the time. You can't open a public pool without lifeguards there all the time. You are paying for staff, paying for maintenance."

Offering a shared facility can make it easier to get a referendum passed, if that is your goal. "If you are a municipality in concert with a high school board, you want to say, this is not going to be used just by the high school. This is for the entire community. Everybody is going to use it," he said. "I've seen many communities send out RFPs where the pool is not connected to the high school building anymore. It is a separate building on the same campus with the school, but it is standalone building so it truly feels like a pool separate from the high school."

Technological Advances

Any discussion about trends in natatorium design has to include and account for technological advances in equipment. Within a natatorium space, it is critical that the swimmers and staff are in a comfortable environment, particularly when it comes to air quality and light.

"You need appropriate humidity levels, light levels and appropriate turnover of the air itself," Hester said. "All of those things create a quality, comfortable environment. With today's technology, you are typically integrating all of the building's conditioning systems so they are synchronized and communicating with each other. I'm referring not only to the building conditioning equipment such as A/C, dehumidification and lighting, but also the pool systems themselves: the recirculation system, the filtration and chemical treatment systems."

How those varying systems communicate with one another is far more advanced today than what it was 10 years ago, Hester explained. Air quality in natatorium spaces has been a real struggle in past years, and the technological advances have been significant.