Always in Season
Transforming Single-Season Swimming Into Year-Round Fun
By Kate Bongiovanni
FORGET THE KIDNEY-SHAPED COVERS to keep the leaves out, winter hibernation and draining that summer haunt, and being forced inside and out of the water when inclement weather hits. Swimming pools and other outdoor recreational facilities are transforming from single-season—in many parts of the country—to year-round centers thanks in part to technology and building materials that have been growing in popularity for the past 30 years.
Alan Dodson, owner of Sun Building Products in Garland, Texas, has worked in the business for the past 25 years and has witnessed the increase in enclosed facilities both residential and commercial. "They do it so they can swim year round," Dodson said. He also explained that the technology has evolved from primitive opening systems to sophisticated cable systems. The use of materials has changed from steel construction to more superior aluminum, and support structures no longer quickly turn black from mold and mildew or erode due to chlorine and need to be replaced.
"We design the enclosures in terms of what the customer wants," Dodson said. This can be anything from a structure utilizing concrete sidewalls instead of the more commonly used sliding glass doors to building residential enclosures more elaborate than the home itself. And in working on several projects in tornado-prone areas, he noted that weather plays a role in the design and ensuring that a structure can withstand a force of impact.
It's true: Pool-goers can sit on the deck working on their suntan in the middle of winter. And they don't have to visit a tropical climate to do so.
While it might seem that the only way to have that sun-kissed glow year-round comes through the use of self-tanning lotion, tanning salons or a trip to a warm climate, technology is one of the latest mediums to provide solace to sun-seekers, arriving in the form of a specially fabricated roof found at some indoor waterparks.
At the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, a 93,000-square-foot expansion opened in January 2008 featuring such a roof. Not only could the space boast new attractions and the title of largest indoor waterpark in Ohio and the United States, but the resort helps make Ohio as popular as Florida in the winter with its transparent roof.
The roof system provides a degree of durability, transparency and insulation that fosters indoor vegetation and keeps acoustic sounds at a minimum. And most importantly, it allows ultra-violet light to shine through, providing climate control and year-round sun-tanning for guests.
In Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Wilderness Resorts recently unveiled a new space featuring transparent roof systems. In 2006, the Wild WaterDome, Wilderness Resorts' name for its new 68,000-square-foot park, unveiled an expansion complete with the largest indoor wave pool. Its new roof allows UV light to penetrate and is calculated to save the resort more than $16,000 per month in utility fees according to Joe Eck, sales and marketing director for Wilderness Resort.
Nestled among the Smoky Mountains in Sevierville, Tenn., Wilderness at the Smokies plans to open in the most-visited national park area in the country, feeding off the success of businesses in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
The resort plans to open an indoor waterpark with the unique tan-through roof in fall 2008.
Why use transparent roof systems? Facilities incorporating this type of system into their master plans not only appease the sun-seekers utilizing the space, but also aid the creation of a green-friendly environment. With UV rays able to penetrate inside, facilities can rely on some of the heat created to keep the water at ideal temperatures for guests, and the growth of vegetation—integral to many a waterpark's themed design. The acoustic transparency created by the foils helps keep sounds of active play at a minimum, making it sound more like being outdoors. Eck also explained that the UV rays naturally increase the ability to kill bacteria that's present in indoor environments.
Segments of some of these transparent roofs are constructed using a material more commonly referred to as ETFE: Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene. DuPont first developed this modified co-polymer for use in the NASA space program because it's lightweight, at less than 1 pound per square foot and only needs 1/10 as much energy to manufacture and transport as glass. ETFE also shows anti-adhesive properties, which helps keep dust and dirt from attaching to the surface. Dust and dirt can wash away in the rain and the roof self-cleans.
Waterparks aren't the only facilities installing transparent roofs allowing sunlight to penetrate. As China builds a series of new structures to house the sports to be played at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the swimming facility brings pool enclosures to a new level in terms of beauty and conservation. Manufactured by the same company that made the roof for the Kalahari Resort expansion in Sandusky, Ohio, the National Swimming Center in Beijing uses the ETFE system as a skin around the structure. According to the company's Web site, this building is the largest ETFE structure in the world and utilizes more than 1 million square feet of ETFE. The good news is that the ETFE foil helps the complex act as a greenhouse to garner the sun's rays to help heat the pool water and the building itself, cutting down on energy costs.
Although located in San Diego, which has a relatively warm climate and ideal weather conditions year-round, the Mission Valley YMCA still felt the need to enclose its pool. To combat cooler winter and nighttime temperatures, the Y installed a retractable roof enclosure.
Siddhartha Vivek, director of marketing and public relations with the Mission Valley YMCA, explained that the facility has indoor pools with retractable roofs at both its Friars Road and Toby Wells locations; Friars Road also has an outdoor pool.
But don't think of this retractable roof as a roof found at a sports stadium. These structures utilize a different design, allowing only a portion of the roof to open to the outdoors. "They are actually interlocking segments that slide away from each other, opening up a section of the roof," Vivek explained. "So a substantial piece of the roof is retractable, not the whole thing."
This allows the Y to keep three pools in operation for a variety of activities year-round and enhances its programming. "Each pool is kept a different temperature for a variety of programming," Vivek said. "Together, the three pools allow us to provide our members the most complete aquatics center in San Diego."
At the Friars Road facility the indoor pool is kept at 90 degrees, facilitating ideal learning conditions, and also perfect for aquatic exercise classes. Its outdoor pool maintains an 80-degree temperature for swim team programs and lap swimming. The McGrath Family Pool at the Toby Wells location keeps the water temperature at 84 degrees for patrons to play on its waterslide, participate in lessons or lap swimming, or attend exercise classes.
For Boyne Resorts, opening Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, connected to the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa at Boyne Mountain in Michigan, just made sense.
"The real competitive advantage is many of these indoor waterparks are built in isolated areas and that's what you do," said Jon Gerstenschlager, marketing director for Mountain Grand Lodge and Avanlanche Bay. "The unique part of Avalanche Bay, and being a part of Boyne Resort, is it has all the amenities and all the accommodations and all the charm of the entire resort. As an example, a family can go to Boyne Mountain and be entertained at Avalanche Bay, but they can also ski on the ski hill that is 50 yards away."
Gerstenschlager explains that the resort updated its packaging to incorporate the waterpark fun with the skiing and golfing available in northern Michigan, and guests need not stay on the property.
"Based on where it's located and the interest in vacationing up north, Avalanche Bay is a little bit different than other spots," he said. "We certainly want and cater to packaged guests that want to be on property, but we also offer daily admission to the park for people who are staying at other hotels or own other property up north or have a cabin. There are a lot of those people and it would be foolish for us not to allow them to enjoy Avalanche Bay as well, and that's not the norm of the indoor waterpark industry."
The park's opening in 2005 transformed the resort primarily successful with the winter ski crowd and summer golf crowd to four-season status.
"It was just a natural fit for us," Gerstenschlager said. "Boyne Resorts needed an amenity that helped them in the shoulder season, which is the spring and the fall when northern Michigan may not be the best." Not only does the waterpark help to keep crowds coming year-round for the Austrian ski village themed attractions, but it can prevent the cancellation of travel plans due to inclement weather or a snow season gone bust.
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