Feature Article - September 2019
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Play & Swim

Outfit Your Aquatic Venue, Expand Your Possibilities

By Dave Ramont

Aquatic facilities have adapted and evolved in recent years, in hopes of attracting wider and new audiences of all ages. Aquatic fitness, training and therapy programs have infiltrated community pools. More organizations and communities are making it easier for underserved populations—both kids and adults—to access learn-to-swim programs. Pools have become more inclusive and accessible for mobility-challenged users. Attracting families with the addition of splash pads has proven to be a boon for many venues. And competitive swimming, diving and water polo is reaching more mainstream users.

One major consideration for pool operators is outfitting their venue: What types of amenities can be added to make their facility more appealing to more users?

"In all types of settings, people are looking for more amenities, and swimming pools are no exception," said Karen Andrus-Hughes, marketing manager of an Oregon-based manufacturer of swimming pool and deck equipment. "Whether it's pool play equipment, shallow water loungers or on-deck splash pads, aquatic facilities are including more features to keep their patrons coming back to the pool."

Sports & Recreation

Sports and recreational features are one of the things keeping those patrons coming back, such as pool volleyball and basketball, which Andrus-Hughes says is a huge draw. "At a local high school pool here in the Portland area, competitive swimmers who have just finished a grueling swim workout will still hang out and shoot hoops for a bit before heading home for dinner."

"Sports and recreation equipment such as basketball, water volleyball and balance challenges are great ways to bring more—and different—experiences to an aquatic facility," said Ryan Nachreiner and Steve Crocker, who work at Water Technology Inc., a Wisconsin-based aquatic planning, design and engineering firm. They explained how competitive aspects and skill requirements make it interesting and fun to compete in these sports. "Many facilities have competitive or flat water available for their users, and as designers we love to find opportunities for engagement for the part of the population that doesn't own Speedos but would still like to get in the water and compete."

Nachreiner is regional director of project development and Crocker is a principal as well as director of sport swimming. They assist clients in navigating the various design options, including equipment choices and feature selections, and they said that these and other games are becoming staples of a modern recreation pool. "New sports and games are also growing in popularity; everything from underwater hockey to competitive log rolling is becoming popular and in demand at aquatic facilities. Inner-tube water polo has been a popular league activity on campuses for years, and unlike many other pool-based sports, swimming prowess is less of a prerequisite for participation here. It is also an extremely low-cost solution for fun and different programming ideas."

Basketball games are available with anchoring systems that can eliminate movement and be easily removed from anchors when decks need to be cleared, with anchor caps put in place. Different setback designs can accommodate facilities with wide overflow or parapet gutters. Volleyball games come with various net sizes and can also be easily removed from anchors. Conversion kits turn swimming pool basketball sets into volleyball sets. Water polo goals and nets come in anchored or floating varieties. A pool golf game allows users to chip from the deck onto a floating green.

Michelle Gable, an associate for Aquatic Design Group, a California-based firm providing design and consulting services in the aquatics industry, agrees that sports and recreational features are very popular. "For us, the design process always includes an understanding for programmatic needs and desires. We have the goal of meeting current needs and incorporating future needs. These amenities add substantial recreational value for minimal cost and are incorporated into designs in a way that still allows those specific water spaces to be used for many other purposes. The flexibility, popularity and minimal cost make them a win for aquatic centers."

Retractable and ceiling-mounted recreational equipment is growing in popularity, and according to Nachreiner and Crocker, these products have the advantage of being easily removed or retracted to quickly enable a pool to accommodate open-water programs and lap swimming. "These are the sort of features that can excite users and create new experiences at aquatic centers that might not be able to afford a complete renovation or addition. Retractable features are attractive in competitive/training pools because it is incredibly important for these pools to have recreation opportunities available without negatively impacting any training or competition that should take place at the facility as well."

They do point out that from an operational perspective, maintenance can be a challenge when amenities are suspended over the water.