Feature Article - September 2019
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Looking Back, Moving Forward

Celebrating 20 Years of Recreation, Sports & Fitness

By Dave Ramont


Grassroots groups oftentimes spearhead inclusive playground projects, such as Mary's Magical Place in Henderson, Tenn., or Magical Bridge in Palo Alto, Calif. These community groups work alongside city agencies with fundraising, planning and construction. Compton said that more designers and parks departments are going beyond ADA standards and thinking creatively about being inclusive and welcoming to all populations, including parents or caregivers who have mobility challenges. She added that this mindset should go beyond playgrounds, mentioning a TPL project in Vermont where they're incorporating ADA-access standards through a trail system.

In fact, ADA standards have had a positive effect on many facets of park design, including the furnishings. Bob Simonsen, marketing manager for an Iowa-based manufacturer of park products, explained that designs have evolved since ADA guidelines were enacted. "Wheelchair access is an integral component of any new table we design. This is true for park grills and campfire rings also."

What about other changes in the world of park furnishings over the past 20 years? "Twenty years ago we were using primarily lumber, plus one or two colors of recycled plastic and one color of vinyl plastisol coating on a few tables," said Simonsen. "Over the years the market has changed, and we now offer many colors of plastic, powder coat paint and thermoplastic coat finishes. The trend has definitely moved toward more color choices."

Recycled plastic materials have come a long way, according to Simonsen, who said they're much cleaner and purer now, adding that their popularity keeps increasing. Perforated and expanded steel products with thermoplastic coating are also growing in popularity. "We believe customers have caught on to the durability and low maintenance needs of these components."

Simonsen also said that during the past 15 to 20 years they've been designing more outdoor furniture for "streetscaping" installations. "Benches, tables, trash receptacles and bike racks are growing in demand for many different locations, and customers are requesting more upscale, artistic designs. We're doing more custom laser cut designs each year." He added that they build a lot of memorial benches as well, which incorporate plaques, engraved letters or cut steel signage, and are paid for by donors, either directly or through a parks agency.

Evolving Aquatics

The aquatics industry has evolved in all kinds of ways over the past couple decades. Justin Caron, principal at Aquatic Design Group, a California-based firm offering design and consulting services, lists safety as one major change, saying that our over-litigious society has spilled over into the aquatics world, translating to more stringent and uniform codes and an emphasis on safety from design through operations. "This affects everything from features and surfaces to systems and air quality."

Profitability is the next major change Caron noted. "Gone are the days when pools could be financial sinkholes. Today's aquatic facilities are focused on maximizing profitability and minimizing operating expenses."

Finally, Caron said flexibility is an evolution, with today's facilities focused on providing programs and options for all users. "Universal access, multiple pools with variable depths and temperatures, comfortable seating options for active and passive users and providing larger, more regional facilities have become the norm."

In the late 1990s, cities were just starting to adopt the family aquatic center models with all the new amenities, according to Kevin Post, principal at Counsilman-Hunsaker, a Missouri-based firm providing services in aquatic design, operations and planning. He explained that from a design standpoint, it was a struggle to convince cities to look at different types of pools because they were new. "Today, we go into design meetings and they're wanting not only some amenities, but more and more amenities than anyone else around, and they're starting to push the limit."

Post said they're also seeing a push for what he calls the resort trend, with more adult lounges and quiet areas. He pointed out that more municipal facilities are starting to offer private rentals of cabanas, which have become the norm at waterparks. "So in 20 years we've almost used up the trend of the small, family aquatic center. We're moving into the new trends of the luxury, high-end pool of sorts."

Splash pads and spray parks have popped up everywhere, whether as standalone spaces at museums, zoos or campgrounds or as added amenities placed in existing pools. Caron explained that offering an amenity that doesn't require a lifeguard allows operators to provide wet amenities in public spaces where small community pools may have existed in the past. "Simultaneously, the exposure to these fun, themed, interactive features has created an expectation for similar features in recreation pools, increasing the play value, desirability and profitability of these pools."

Post agrees that spray amenities now are often tied to pools in bigger facilities. "When they're standalone now I see the trend being more toward the artistic fountain—something you can play in, but less of the giraffes and squirt guns and more of the lights and Bellagio-type fountain features." He described how they've become more interactive and creative, with more options and app-related integration where the public can log in and do different things with the light shows.

Aquatic programming has been a major driver of change, with competitive programs and water sports, water therapy, adaptive programs for disabled populations, kayaking and scuba and many water exercise and fitness offerings from aqua yoga to paddleboard fitness. Caron said that specialized programs have become the norm as facilities focus on retaining members and increasing participation. "From a holistic standpoint, right-sized flexible spaces capable of handling multiple programs has become a core tenet in aquatic design."

Post uses the adage "programming precedes design," and mentioned the four user groups of aquatics: competitive, recreational, therapy, and instructional. He explained how these groups all desire different water depths and temperatures.