Feature Article - January 2020
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Planning for Flexibility & Wellness

The Ongoing Evolution of Natatorium Design

By Dave Ramont


Given the expense of a natatorium building, single multiple-use pools were developed to provide a smaller footprint. And Berkshire explained how creating zones in that pool can serve multiple programs, allowing for a smaller building. "The disadvantage of this approach is that it can make staffing and supervision more difficult."

To provide the widest array of programming options, it's becoming increasingly common for facilities to provide multiple bodies of water, particularly since a single pool will provide a single water temperature. "Competitive water requires cooler water temperatures—typically 78 to 82 degrees—while recreation, learn-to-swim and therapy pools require warmer water temperatures—typically 82 to 90 degrees," said Berkshire. "By having multiple smaller pools, the water temperature and pool configurations are better suited to specific programs."

Additionally, with multiple smaller pools, a facility can close one or more of the pools if programming has less demand during certain times of the year, added Berkshire. "Since staffing is the single largest expense for facilities, this can reduce annual operating expenses and provide a better operating cost recovery."

Indoor pools provide many functions these days, and offerings are always being enhanced and expanded. "We continue to receive very positive feedback on wellness programming for all ages that isn't the conventional aqua aerobics that often targets senior populations," said Hester. "Especially at universities, aquatic managers are implementing classes for Aqua Physical (using tethered inflatable yoga-type mats that are great for balancing and core stabilization), Aqua Yoga, Underwater Spinning, Stand-Up Paddle Boarding, etc."

The city of Sioux Falls, S.D., retained Hester's firm to provide a city-wide aquatic facilities master plan, which led to the building of the Midco Aquatic Center, a 56,000-square-foot indoor state-of-the-art aquatic complex combining leisure areas with fitness and competition program spaces. The center houses three pools: a 50-meter competition pool housed in its own room, and recreation and warm-water pools which are located together in a different room. All feature ADA lifts.

The competition pool is used for swim meets and public lap swimming, according to Rich Carlson, a park district supervisor in Sioux Falls. It's also utilized by local swim clubs and two colleges. There are four diving boards, two basketball hoops, and on weekends, an inflatable volleyball court is set up.

Carlson said their mezzanine section has permanent bleacher seating for 500-plus spectators. "Parents are asked to sit in this area when their children have swim lessons. When we host large swim meets, the stands are mostly full." During these meets, food is also available for purchase. There are portable bleachers around the pool that teams use during swim meets.

The recreation pool—which features zero-depth/beach entry—is surrounded by windows to "bring the outside in." It offers open/recreational swim, water walking and swim lessons. Carlson describes some of its amenities, including a play feature with a large dump bucket, floating lily pads and netting for crossing, slide and spray features, a current channel and inflatable play features that are set up monthly.

"There's a waterslide that goes outside the facility and then back into the rec pool," said Carlson. "Also, once a month we have a movie on our video board and people are allowed to float on tubes, swim or sit in the mezzanine section. And we have a small splash pad outside the rec pool room that is open in the summer months."

The warm-water pool is used for recreation, swim lessons, water fitness classes and therapy. "On weekends it's very popular with kids because it's our warmest body of water."

Modern natatoriums are also upping the game when it comes to support areas, which can be another way to attract users and encourage them to stay longer. At the Midco Center there's a lounge with table seating, a 65-inch television, charging station, fireplace and concessions/vending. "The lobby area offers seating for people that use our concessions or a place to relax while their family and friends are swimming," said Carlson, adding that people like to have lunch or warm up during winter months if they're participating in activities at the adjoining park.

Equipment and systems that allow for more diverse use of a swimming pool are becoming more desired, according to Berkshire, explaining that these features allow facilities to attract patrons of all ages, increasing pool usage. He mentioned climbing walls, inflatable obstacle courses, underwater obstacle courses and drop-in exercise equipment such as bicycles, stair climbers and paddle board yoga. "The challenge with this equipment in a natatorium is adequate and accessible storage space. Overhead storage is being used for some of this equipment when it can be designed in a facility from the beginning."

The Midco Center has storage rooms for maintenance supplies and for recreation equipment, according to Carlson. There are also offices and four meeting/party rooms with pool access, which offer additional revenue-generating opportunities.

Moveable bulkheads allow multiple programs to occur in a single pool. "The bulkhead can also allow a pool to have shallow areas to support fitness and recreation while still maintaining deep water for a faster and better competition pool area", said Berkshire.

The Midco Center utilizes two bulkheads in the competition pool, which Carlson said are used daily to divide the pool into three bodies of water. "One section is for walking/public lap swim, the middle is for lap swim and practices, and the third section is a diving well so people can use the diving boards." Carlson said they're also useful for swim meets, creating two 25-yard pools for a total of 20 lanes. When setting up for long course, the two bulkheads are docked together on one side of the pool with starting blocks.