Feature Article - January 2020
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Worlds of Water Fun

A Deep-Dive Into Outdoor Aquatic Park Design

By Rick Dandes


You want to appeal to all ages within a typical family, Nachreiner said, which will cover a wide range of users. "You can have everyone from grandma and grandpa, a senior fitness type of user, to middle-age users looking for entertainment, teenagers, young kids and toddlers. We try to configure that whole family in a multi-generational approach to cover all the potential users."

Typically, the age group that is so often discussed as hard to engage with is in the teenage range, Gerber said. Surf simulators and other adventurous activities can help. "Anything from tweens, 11- and 12-year-olds and on up, engaging in action adventure sports is really going to appeal to that group that is typically head-down and into a phone and looking away."

Waterslide racing is another way to appeal to the tween-teen demographic. Thanks to technology, you can install timing systems on slides, so that one person going down the slide competes with the next person going down the slide.

"You can customize a user's experience in waterslides so that it is something different as they go down every time," Gerber said. There are slide manufacturers, she noted, that have music in them and different animal sounds, different lights, false bottoms so it feels like you are going to fall down or shoot out the side when you are actually continuing around to different curves. You can time an entire music show to the lights, so the lights of the clouds that are ceiling-mounted and have water coming down off them also played music during the slide. Even consider installing nighttime lighting, she said, so that your facility can be used and rented out after dark and can keep contributing to cost recovery.

Revenue Potential

In terms of revenue, for a facility to be successful it needs to become a destination facility, and not a drop-off facility, Palmer said. "At the old municipal outdoor pools, you would drop off your kids for a swim class and then pick them up an hour or two later. Now we want the facility to be a place where the entire family can come and recreate. And when the family comes to recreate, they are going to spend more time, which means the ability to generate more revenue, whether it is concession sales or program sales."

If your facility is a recreation-type destination facility, you'll see more repeat business. "The other thing we look at from a revenue recovery perspective, is the basis of revenue structure," Palmer said. "The more personalized the programs become, the higher or more market-value fees the facility is able to charge."

A perfect example of that is the onset of swim schools at outdoor facilities that are operating at a profit. There is a lot of money to be made by offering swim lessons, Palmer said, but it is not simply offering swim lessons when it is convenient for kids but marketing this as a level of service to the community.

"From a personalized standpoint," Palmer continued, "if you go from a group swim lesson, where you charge X dollars, and if it can become a semi-private lesson it will be X-plus dollars, and if it becomes a private lesson it has an even greater revenue potential. Offering programs like that, which can reach out to a community, is a way to generate more revenue for the same water."

There are a few other ways to attack budget drain, Palmer said. "We know that a flat-water facility, a rectangular eight-lane or six-lane Olympic-size pool, on average, at an outdoor facility, will generate about a 30 to 40%, maybe up to a 50% annual operating cost recovery."

Pools that have more amenities that reach out to the public can generate 70 to 90% annual operating cost recovery, he said. "Part of that cost recovery is going to be based on two things. One: If you look at outdoor aquatic centers, about 60% of the annual operating expenses are staffing. Labor, wages, benefits. Another 30% is going to be your utilities." So to reduce operating expense, you need to look carefully at staffing and maintenance.

If you look at a multiple pool facility, you can start reducing some of that 30% annual operating cost, via the utility and maintenance part of it. With multiple pools, Palmer said, you might have areas you can cordon off. One side might be for competitive fitness users, with recreational water on another side. "You might even bifurcate the site, build barriers so that during the winter, when kids are back in school you might not have need for that recreational water."