Feature Article - October 2020
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Mix It Up

Innovative Accessories Help Pools Expand Programming

By Rick Dandes

As commercial, municipal and private swimming pool facilities began to reopen this summer after COVID-related shutdowns, stakeholders have had the challenge of welcoming a public eager to get back in the water and have fun, while finding ways to recover economically and do it all safely. Pool-designing experts and equipment manufacturers suggest that when you add essential accessories, you can add programs, expand access, improve attendance and boost the fun factor.

As our culture has evolved, said Karen Andres-Hughes, marketer at a pool equipment company headquartered in Canby, Ore., it takes a lot more than a pool full of water to draw people to your aquatic facility. Dynamic, interactive activities like slides, diving boards, games and engaging programming encourage kids and families to get back in the pool. "Across the country," she said, "we are seeing aquatic facilities realize that they need the fun factor, products, to get kids and families to return in numbers to aquatic facilities."

Developing an operational business plan during a planning project or for an existing facility will assist in creating and utilizing efficient and multi-functional spaces, said Lauren Ozburn, operations analyst for Water's Edge Aquatic Design. "If a facility is already open, conducting an inventory of the available spaces and how and when they are currently utilized can help identify potential opportunities for increased offerings. If there is a space, time or demographic that is possibly underserved, narrow down the missing need and focus on that solution."

Pool managers need to engage the public with new, exciting

and fun accessories, but any change starts with your initial plans, suggested Chris Seris, project director with Counsilman-Hunsaker. "Start with the basics. We go to user groups to get an idea of what accessories might be appropriate. As designers, we tend to categorize them in terms of five user groups: a competitive group, where we see swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming; recreation, the largest user group; instructional groups, such as learn-to-swim, water fitness classes; fitness, with users being people who are going to lap swim for fitness or water walking; and then aquatic therapy."

These groups are going to require different things as a pool is designed and programed. Each will require a different water depth, and, generally speaking, different water temperatures. If you are working with a pool designer, they need to know these basics in order to later outfit the pool with appropriate accessories, and provide for each group, or as many groups as necessary in an aquatic facility.

Competitive swimmers want a cooler body of water, so having a lap pool used for competitive swimming is different from water fitness or water therapy users. They will want a much warmer body of water. If for some reason you have to combine those two user groups, some compromise will have to be found on the water temperature and the water depth, Seris said.

"If we have water-based exercises, water fitness and instructional programs, the depth of the pool will have to be shallow enough to accommodate that," he added. "There are a couple of ways to do that. There are moveable floors that are available where you can turn a lap pool from an 8-foot-deep pool to a 3.5-foot-deep pool. You can install a moveable floor in a competition pool, and raise the floor from the normal 8 feet at one end and bring it to zero if we wanted to or any depth in the middle. In that way you can provide almost a land-based fitness class, or even something like kayaking classes, where an instructor will stand in the water while people practice rowing."

Some other options are a little smaller in scale, he added. There are platforms that can be installed, and those that be taken out or put in for instructional programs. They are smaller than moveable floors and on the less expensive side.

"There are also permanent features that can be incorporated into a pool design, such as moving water," Seris explained. Current channels and lazy rivers have a moving-water component, which is great for recreation and leisure, if it is large enough to accommodate rafts or tubes in the river. For fitness running or swimming, going against the current is an idea.

Some features that are used quite a bit these days include climbing walls, which vary in height and difficulty for different age groups. Zip lines have also been around for a while. But some newer designs are more self-contained, so that the user doesn't have to go across the entire pool.

Other ways to outfit a pool include newer features, such as water-based obstacle courses. Operators can install them in the pool where kids can run, climb, jump and make it through a course. Big pyramids and slides can transform a flat water pool into a more active adventure space. And, Seris pointed to a new feature on the market, a ninja course rig mounted over a pool that offers an intensive obstacle-course experience similar to Ninja Warrior on TV, with swinging, climbing and a race component with a timing device.