Supplement Feature - May 2022
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Aquatics for Everyone

Natatoriums Meet a Range of Community Needs

By Deborah Vence

More people are putting health and wellness front and center, whether it's by incorporating more nutritious meals or finding new ways to exercise. As the will to get healthy and stay fit continues to grow, so has the appeal of natatoriums to reap all the benefits—both physical and mental—of working out and relaxing in the water. Everything from low-intensity and high-intensity exercise to competitive-style events is being offered.

Demand on the Rise

There has been a substantial increase in user demand as well as a desire for indoor aquatic facilities nationwide, according to Mike Wekesser, sports practice studio leader with JLG Architects, an architecture firm in Minneapolis.

"Communities are asking for natatoriums with lap swimming, water aerobics, deep dive pools, ninja play training, designated space for children's swim lessons, and additional pools to host an array of family and adaptable activities. It's really increasing the number of pools we plan for, the size of pools, and ultimately, the size of facilities," he said. "Americans' desire for health and wellness is on the rise, and more people are recognizing the appeal of aquatic centers and natatoriums for the mental and physical health benefits—places that will help combat seasonal depression, keep their families active, and inspire them to learn new skills with the option of group or individualized training.

"In the past," he said, "aquatic centers were primarily stand-alone facilities. Today, we are seeing a trend of aquatic venues combined with other sport venues—for example, large aquatic centers with sport courts or ice hockey. They are not simply recreation centers; they respond to specific sports' needs for specific communities."

What's more, larger, shared venues present opportunities for architectural and engineering solutions to optimize the building's footprint and operational efficiency.

"The newest natatoriums boast green strategies to recycle water, create efficient heating and cooling systems, and use natural chemicals or processes to clean and filter the water. One passive heating strategy is to draw the water to the roof, heat it with the sun, and then return the heated water to heat the pool," Wekesser added.

Driving Trends

Justin Caron, principal and CEO of Aquatic Design Group, a California-based full-service aquatic architecture and engineering firm, noted some of the latest trends in designing indoor aquatic facilities.

"Flexible use and multiple pool tanks continue to grow in natatoriums," he said. "Pools with different temperatures, depths and amenities allow facilities to offer a wide variety of programs. This trend allows the operator to cater their programs to all users regardless of ability level, age or comfort with water."

He also said that dry-side amenities are growing in popularity. "From seating areas, to classroom spaces, to lounge areas, to universal locker and changing rooms, to therapy-specific spaces, modern natatoriums are evolving to provide spaces and places that allow all potential users opportunities to comfortably recreate, relax and recover."

Another trend is that "Air quality continues to become a driver of design. The days when substandard air quality was acceptable are gone," Caron added.

Sustainable Design

Mary Chow, architect, AIBC, LEED AP BD+C, CPHD, associate vice president at HDR, Inc., a company that specializes in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services, said that "As facility owners become more aware of the need for sustainable buildings, sustainable design—specifically social sustainability—is arguably one of the main trends for indoor aquatic facilities.

"Increasingly, sustainable design considers both the social and environmental realms of a project by evaluating measures and implementing specific selected goals in these facilities," she said. "Social sustainability measures include human health and community health, while environmental sustainability considers decarbonization, water supply and quality, air quality, etc."

For example, Chow noted, "one specific social sustainability goal for the Prince George (British Columbia, Canada) Downtown Pool is the application of Universal Design principles in all areas of the facility and site."

HDR is leading the design for the new facility, which is on track for completion in September 2022. The project involves transforming the existing Four Seasons Leisure Pool into a new, sustainable, modern facility.

Features will include: a six-lane, 25-meter lap pool; a four lane, 25-meter teaching pool with warm water and shallower depth; a leisure pool with a lazy river, beach entry and play features; a large waterslide with a run-off lane; dedicated male and female change rooms; a large universal change room; and more. In addition, each of the pools will have a shallow entry and "pool pods" that will allow people with mobility devices to enter the pools easily.

"Universal Design," Chow explained, "is an umbrella term that also considers accessibility, inclusivity, equity and strives to make aquatic facilities welcoming to all. This means being intentional with removing barriers that prevent individuals and families from participating. It also means that all visitors to a universally designed facility feel that they are an equal participant."

For the Prince George pool project, environmental sustainability includes connecting the building to a district energy system for building and pool heating. In addition, "Triple-glazed electrochromic glass is used for the natatorium for increased thermal insulative values, while allowing the glass to be automatically tinted to control heat buildup and glare through the day. For the pool filtration system, a regenerative media system was selected to reduce water consumption for the pools," she explained.