Supplement Feature - May 2020
Find a printable version here

Aquatic Pros Talk Design

Plan Ahead for Operational Success

By Deborah Vence

Clarksville Cove opened in the summer of 2017, and experienced positive results. Total attendance in 2015 was at 22,754, and in 2017 reached 25,487—an increase of 12%. What's more, total sales reached more than $200,000, increasing about 30% from 2015. Concessions also saw a 20% increase over 2015, and brought in more than $45,000. Two large increases were in revenue from daily admissions and the sale of passes. Daily admission revenue was up 29% and pass revenue was up 59%. Also, the number of guards needed on staff was decreased from more than 30 to nine total guards. And, birthday party attendance increased 263% with a newly renovated birthday party area.

Michelle Gable, an associate at Aquatic Design Group, an aquatic design firm in Carlsbad, Calif., that provides architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical design services for swimming pools and water features, said that "Aquatic facilities designed spaciously for both patrons and staff [is] well- suited for successful operations. Dedicated spaces for changing clothes, concessions/sales, events and staff-only activities make a big difference for operations."

Aquatic facility spaces that don't adequately accommodate people's needs and wants not only limit revenue potential, but lead people to seek out a competitor with a better facility design as well.

"The experience from entrance to exit at an aquatic facility is truly a factor that keeps the lights on," she said.

Besides designing desired spaces for patrons, staff also should be considered in the design process.

"Staff wants to work at an aquatic facility that dedicates space to them beyond the pool deck. Otherwise, they too may seek out a competitor facility," Gable said. "Happy staff who feel valued and comfortable are more likely to go the extra mile for your patrons. Happy patrons who have strong connections with staff are loyal, utilize more programs and spread the word to their friends. All of these factors directly ensure operational success and financial stability."

Aquatic facilities that have multiple pools have become popular designs because they maximize programming, appeal to a wider range of interests and increase participation numbers.

"Having more than one pool also means limited operations rather than zero operations during a pool closure. Not having to turn everyone away during an unexpected pool closure is added value only achievable with multiple bodies of water," she said.

"Lastly, creating an aquatic center that has amenities and programs for people of all ages and abilities will help create sustained interest and success," Gable added. "Like diversifying financial portfolios, diversifying user amenities and experiences across ages and abilities will help the facility adapt and thrive regardless of changing demographics or fitness and recreation trends."

Know Your Audience

Another important factor to consider in the early stages of designing an aquatic facility is your audience and market, in order to create aesthetic appeal.

"There are many different factors in creating a design aesthetic for an aquatic facility, "Gerber said. "Before design aesthetics are considered though, our first step is to identify the program of the facility by determining the number of pools, their intended uses, temperatures, age groups, etc. Once a program is identified, we can then begin to lay out conceptual designs that will illustrate how the space functions as a collective. When we are working with design teams and end users, we often talk about balancing the program, the social interaction and the 'watertainment' in the aquatic areas."

Design aesthetic can be achieved by creating spaces that speak to the community or users that will be occupying that facility.

"For example, when working with Grapevine, Texas, the aquatics area has some great theming elements that pay homage to the city of Grapevine and Texas. A large, decorative 'Texas Star' welcomes swimmers as they wade into the zero-depth entry of the pool, and the interactive play structure features grapes and vines and allows children to navigate the exciting areas of the 'grapevine.'"

In another example, Gerber noted that when working with the city of Williston, N.D., the focus was put on the primary funding source, oil, as design inspiration when key amenities and themed pieces were chosen.

"Aesthetic appeal can be derived from the theme or from how the pools and users can interact with the space," she added. "By creating a balanced program, swimmers should be able to enjoy a variety of recreation amenities in aquatic facilities that fit their needs."