Supplement Feature - May 2020
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Aquatic Pros Talk Design

Plan Ahead for Operational Success

By Deborah Vence


For an aquatic facility to be successful, proper attention needs to be given to its creation from the very beginning. That is, in order to best achieve operational success, you need to start with the design of an aquatic facility and factor in everything from knowing the audience and market to creating aesthetic appeal.

Determine Operational Success

One of the greatest operational expenses at an aquatic facility is staffing and lifeguards, said Jen Gerber, business development leader for Water Technology Inc. (WTI), a Beaver Dam, Wisconsin-based aquatic planning, design and engineering firm.

"We often hear from operators that they struggle to find staff for their facility, so as designers we can work to implement layouts that require fewer staff to safely operate, thus reducing the total operational expense for the facility and the staffing burden," Gerber said.

As an example, Cherry Park Pool in Weatherford, Texas, only requires four guards and is easy to operate following its renovation.

Cherry Park Pool, which originally opened in 1949, went through a renovation that involved WTI's engineering team designing a pool within the existing pool shell to reduce construction expenses.

Now, the new pool features six lap lanes and an attached zero-depth-entry area with a play structure. The multipurpose pool provides space for lap swimming to take place concurrently with family swim and splash hours for younger users. In addition, a small spray pad was added to the site for additional recreation opportunities for families that visit Cherry Park.

After Cherry Park Pool opened in 2019, it achieved a 30% increase in revenue over 2018; 47 after-hour party rentals, which were completely sold out; a 33% increase in pool attendance over 2018; 827 kids in the learn-to-swim program; and an average of 47 adults per day in the water aerobics program.

In determining operational success, Gerber also talked about "'transparent design' as one of our fundamental methodologies for aquatic design when working with communities and owners. 'Transparent design' provides a design that can function at a variety of attendance levels with minimum staffing and without compromising user safety or staff risk.

"There are several design decisions for both indoor and outdoor facilities that can significantly impact the staffing burden for managers," she added. "Interactive play structures are often sizable components that can easily inhibit sight lines, which will increase the requirements for lifeguarding the areas where young children play. By including a cornucopia of individual pieces that do not obstruct sight lines, staffing can be reduced without sacrificing the user experience."

For example, one of the most popular features in recreation facilities is the lazy river.

"The layout and orientation of lazy rivers can make a significant difference in the number of lifeguard staff required to maintain safe usage of this multi-generational feature," Gerber said. "By keeping these current channels as linear as possible, and by reducing the amount of winding, meandering curves, staff can be positioned on the deck surfaces at each end with clear sight lines to either side," she said, adding that "by keeping island walls as low as practical, lifeguards can see users on both sides of the wall."

Yet another piece of equipment that can affect sight lines is the waterslide tower and how the riders exit the flumes.

"It is often desirable to locate the waterslide tower on the external portion of the natatorium or outdoors in a location that does not obstruct view and often acts as an 'advertisement' to demonstrate the excitement and opportunities inside the facility," Gerber explained.

"In natatoriums," she added, "the slide tower is placed in an area where it does not impede the connectivity to any landscape views. Then the waterslide flume can continue to stay in the building at upper elevations, then exit the building as it transitions to the lower elevation where the rider enters a splash down pool or a deceleration runout. One important consideration is the use of runout flumes to have one lifeguard on the attraction instead of the two lifeguards required for a splash down pool. This 50% staff reduction can be a significant benefit for operators."

For the outdoor swimming pool facility at Clarksville Family Aquatic Center in Indiana, WTI was contracted in 2015 by the City of Clarksville Parks and Recreation Department to assess the pool facility's structural integrity, equipment operational integrity and operational efficiencies.

The approved plan to redevelop the facility resulted in changes that lowered operating costs and energy and water usage. Additional play features and amenities for guests were added as well.