Feature Article - September 2021
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Your Pool Toolkit

Support Aquatic Programming With Pool Accessories

By Joe Bush

Anna Slocum, parks and recreation director in Merriam, Kan., said the indoor and outdoor pools at the Merriam Community Center have a full slate of programs and classes for exercise, therapy, competition and instruction for all ages. They also have an impressive array of fun accessories. She experienced the design and accessory choice as the town planned for its current facility.

The indoor pool has basketball and a slide while the outdoor pool features a pair of 1-meter dive boards, a zipline structure and starting platforms for a swim club that's been around since 1963. Slocum said that as a part of the pool's design process, there was an appointed group of pool patrons who helped select the accessories from a list of budget-approved options.

The pool has members and non-members who pay a daily rate for using the pools.

"(The accessories) have provided a good mix of options for patrons whether they decide to remain inside or outside, which is a great selling point for memberships," Slocum said.

She said when municipalities or private organizations begin planning a pool and accessories, they should start by looking around their region to understand what neighboring facilities have, and if they are replacing an existing facility, what patrons expect to return.

"We had slides outdoors at the former facility with no indoor facility, and moving the slides indoors took a lot of education," said Slocum. "We had a designated slide for patrons under 48 inches, one of the few facilities to have that feature, and it was important to emulate that experience on some level.

"There was a three-meter dive board but no space to accommodate the new stair design nor money to go increase water depth to accommodate the height. It was a struggle, but with a consistent communication plan from staff to city council it helped to educate the public when the question was raised."

Slocum said details matter when planning what a pool can accommodate. For instance, the depth of bodies of water to ensure ample space for swim lessons was important as well as depth that provided versatility. Because anything over five feet is used less, the outdoor pool in Merriam has a unique shape to maximize the 3.5-feet to 5-feet depth.

Another example of details affecting pool design and use: Slocum said the patrons struggled with yards vs. meters.

"Since pools in the area were all built in the 1980s when meters were prevalent, yards were not an acceptable length for the outdoor pool, specifically for the summer swim team. Although yards could be accommodated for this six-week program, with other amenities and changes occurring, the city council decided it should remain meters, which eliminates any programming opportunities outdoors with USA Swimming. With only four lanes indoors, it is unlikely the space is large enough to accommodate any of the (USA Swimming) needs."

Phil Henry, maintenance logistics coordinator of aquatics for the city of Boulder, Colo., said the mix of accessories—waterslides of varying heights, in-pool basketball hoops, climbing walls, diving boards—at the pool he oversees was decided in part by the citizens of Boulder in a series of citywide surveys.

"Every built-in amenity at the pool has drawn a different type of customer," said Henry. "The features in the sprayground and zero-depth areas have drawn families with small children. The lazy river and waterslides appeal to all ages, and the diving and climbing features have drawn the adventurous crowd.

"I advise a diverse palette of amenities to appeal to patrons. We were able to spread our amenities out across the entire facility, and it has allowed us to utilize all of our available space without crowding."

Further north, the city of Butte, Mont., opened Ridge Waters, a waterpark within a massive community park that features a golf course, million-dollar playground, carousel and athletic fields. Parks Director Bob Lazzari said the only programming is lap swimming in the mornings. After that there's two sessions of fun, with a 300-person limit for each session. A 10-visit card is $30, said Lazzari.

"After three hours, we chase everyone out, clean the whole thing, sanitize everything, wipe down the deck, all tables all chairs, bathrooms," Lazzari said. "The advantage to it is it gives lifeguards a break and they pay attention better on the second shift. Most parents like it because they're ready to leave after three hours."

The play structure in shallow water boasts a tube slide, side-by-side racer slides, water cannons and large dumping bucket. In deeper water, features include floatable logs, water basketball, water volleyball and a 20-foot monkey rope. In the deepest water are a 15-foot climbing wall and a diving platform, and two 23-foot water slides. Underwater benches help swimmers relax without hanging onto the deck.

Lazzari said the monkey rope was not used this summer because of staffing issues, but in the pool's three previous years it was as popular as the climbing wall. Topping off the pool's status as a destination are five cabanas for rent.

Lazzari said the town's data shows that 60% of the cabanas' renters are from at least 80 miles from Butte. The park's closest competition for a similar waterpark is Missoula, 100 miles away.

"It's a busy place," he said. RM