Supplement Feature - May 2022
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Smart Strategies for Outdoor Aquatics

Design Guidance for New & Updated Outdoor Aquatic Facilities

By Joe Bush


Amazing outdoor pools and aquatic parks also have amazing price tags that not all municipalities can afford. Or can they? There are ways to plan for additions for when more money is available, and to program to generate revenue to help pay for features, and to design a layout that maximizes space. A design consultant can be a good partner for any or all of these ways to stretch the dollars at hand.

"Whether those changes happen two years after opening or 20 years after opening, there's a lot of things we can do now that can impact the future of the facility," said Jennifer Gerber, business development leader with Water Technology Inc. "At the end of the day everyone's got a budget and a wish list and timeline, and we have to work with them to figure out the best way to balance those."

Gerber said anyone looking to build or renovate outdoor aquatic spaces who wants assistance from a design company should look for several traits:

>> Good Listening: "The first thing any good aquatic consultant should be doing is getting to know who the users are and how they'll use the facility. How can they be part of balancing the program they've identified that best fits the needs and the budget? Depending on who's using it and how, we're going to make certain recommendations.

"Every client, every owner, every group has something they're very passionate about as far as their project goals. It's our goal to be good listeners, to hear what their goal is and to find the best path to achieving that. Sometimes it's, 'How do we get the most bang for the buck, the most iconic thing for the least amount of money?' Sometimes it's, 'We have X amount of dollars, how do we keep this pool safely functioning and provide a good healthy experience for our users?'

"Back-of-house updates have a cost and they're less exciting to look at, but they're still necessary for the user experience. Sometimes it's a schedule: How much can you do in a short amount of time?"

>> Creativity & Resourcefulness: "'Watertainment' is the entertainment and the usage of your water space. It's one thing for swim teams and water polo, it's something else for families, for teens and tweens. Good aquatic designers need to know how to deliver as much as they can for all of those diverse user groups."

>> Economic Smarts: "Good aquatic designers have to be aware you have to be able to afford to operate your facility after the (project). You need to be able to afford your water, to afford your staffing. For instance, everyone in the country is struggling with lifeguard staffing right now, so ways we can reduce lifeguard expense is helpful.

"The big play structures can be fun, they can bring people in, they can serve as branding, advertising from the road, but they take a significant amount of guards to staff. Same with lazy rivers that are very wind-y. Linear lazy rivers will require fewer guards to staff. Minor tweaks like that can make a big difference."

>> Client Advocacy: "Good designers should always be advocating for their owners and acting as a resource even after a project opens so that everyone knows how to operate this expensive and, at times, complicated equipment.

"You want to work with designers who help you in the selection of good pool contractors. We've seen far too many projects that have been constructed by people who don't actually know what they're doing, and that's when things get expensive.

"You want someone that's going to advocate for you throughout. You want a designer that's going to listen. We shouldn't be here to push an agenda through because we want to see the inclusion of some new feature or some new ride we heard about. We should be here to design the solution for your community and your needs and your budget.

"They should be completely independent. They should be fully focused on aquatics. Aquatics is a complicated enough and expensive enough environment that it helps if it is truly just a focused aquatics designer."

>> Custom Work: "Really no pool should be the exact same. Every site is different. Soil conditions are different everywhere. They're incredibly important in pool construction. Make sure your pool consultant is planning for your site and your project requirements and that every design is unique and created specifically for your needs, whether that's for renovation, new construction, replacement, it doesn't really matter."

>> Experience With Phasing: "Phasing is an incredibly important part of the design world. Sometimes the wish list exceeds the reality, and the budget and timing restraints. By planning and designing for what future phases might look like, we can often engineer and plan in space when we know there will be future additions."

Gerber cited a project her firm assisted with in Texas. The client had a very set budget and the consultant knew it could accommodate two slides. "But we helped them budget for a larger slide tower so they could add in a slide a few years later," she said. "On their second year of operation, they were incredibly successful, and they added that additional slide when funds freed up. They had enough mechanical space available, enough deck space and slide platform space so they could accommodate that change without having to rip up anything new."

Gerber said before operators start the search for helping hands, they need to check a few boxes. "Take an internal inventory," she said. "Really understand what your priorities are. What are you looking to achieve, when are you looking to achieve it, and what can you afford? Make sure you understand your needs before you ask someone to help answer those needs."

Three stories from across the nation show what operators working with designers for specific goals planned and executed with favorable results.