Feature Article - January 2020
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Worlds of Water Fun

A Deep-Dive Into Outdoor Aquatic Park Design

By Rick Dandes

Beyond the Basics

A strong ongoing trend in municipal aquatic parks? "They look more like commercial waterparks," Keim said. "They are including features like big, iconic slides and rides. Communities are beginning to add theming into their features, which was unusual in the past. But they have really stepped it up, and they are adding attractions like surf simulators."

There is interest in wave action these days, Keim explained. Not only in wave pools, but in what previously were lazy rivers. "They are turning them into more of an action river kind of experience by adding wave action and boosting a higher level of flow in the rivers so that you actually get a faster current than what you would see in a typical lazy river."

Another design trend involves wave pool configurations; for example, kids' wave pools, with smaller waves where more kids can enjoy the stimulation of being in a wave pool. Or dual-entry wave pools where there are two beaches. Here, parents can sit along the shallow end and your kids can be in the other space.

The new facilities look like and are designed as a place for families to spend all day. "They are beginning to step it up," Keim said, "in terms of providing better and more shade, and improved food and beverage offerings, as opposed to the old greasy hot dog that has been sitting on a roller for four hours.

"I'm even seeing upgrades in furniture at these facilities," Keim noted. "You didn't used to see that at a city pool, where the kids went to get swim lessons or where moms would hang out for an hour while kids splashed around in the wading pool. It's not like that anymore."

A Case Study in California

Working with Aquatic Design Group, the City of North Richland Hills, Texas, worked to upgrade its aging municipal waterpark with a state-of-the-art slide attraction. City officials wanted to reduce costs and increase attendance at the park.

Aquatic Design Group worked with officials to develop a long-range, phased development plan addressing the immediate need, as well as future development.

The best slide attraction option was identified—one that stayed in budget while maximizing the user experience.

The result? The park's "Viper" waterslide was opened in 2011, a family ride featuring high banking turns and a drop into a 20-foot megatube.


You obviously need to look at the demographics of the community, Palmer said. "We know that as a whole, the U.S. has an aging population. So, you'll want to offer a variety of amenities that reaches out to the entire community. That means from children 2 years of age to seniors 102 years of age, and everywhere in between.

"The biggest trend I've seen in outdoor facilities are designs that have flexibility, in spaces and in water, so that the entire park has the ability to serve a wide array of programs. Oftentimes at outdoor facilities, that means we are going to get into multiple pools."

A designer might take a look at a facility that has initially been targeted as an Olympic-size pool, and take that same amount of water and break it up into two or three pools, so you can have varied water temperatures and water depths that can be specific to service specific programs.

Having multiple pools also can provide flexibility in off seasons, where you might not have a need for one of the pools, Palmer said. "You'd have the ability to let it go dormant. And not have to staff it, not have to pay to heat it to maintain it, as you would if it were in operation. "This can help reduce operating cost, which gets back to how it affects our operating cost recovery potential for a pool."

Nachreiner agreed that the number-one trend, and maybe the best way to recover costs, is trying to make pools as multipurpose as possible, so that you can have the different program options.

"There are a whole group of options," he said, "that we know are popular and are going to serve most communities. You still want to have lap swimming, but also have water aerobics and learn-to-swim classes. If we can have in that same space where you can add some of those new unique activities—overhead spray features, retractable obstacle course systems, all within that same environment, it really maximizes the return on the investment in that square footage."