Aquatics Centers

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is widely known as one of Clint Eastwood’s most famous and successful “spaghetti westerns.” In the plot, Eastwood (the good), Lee Van Cleef (the bad), and Eli Wallach (the ugly), each hold a piece of the puzzle needed to find a fortune in hidden gold.

So, maybe, if we wanted to have a little fun, we could argue that aquatics centers, in many regards, bear a worthwhile comparison to this epic film. Like a Clint Eastwood film, the development of a community aquatics center typically carries center stage, presents blockbuster opportunities to market your programs and leaves first and last impressions about how popular your department is in the community. Like the actors in the movie, each with a puzzle piece, the companion parts of the aquatics center must work together in order to present an award-winning product.

* The Good – waterslides, lazy rivers, fountains, sprays and waves

* The Bad – operational equipment, energy bills, regulations, vandalism and horseplay (whatever happened to those “No Horseplay” signs anyway?)

* The Ugly – locker rooms, restrooms, hallways, and supply closets

System Thinking

Most municipal parks and recreation administrators would probably concede that aquatics represent one of the most significant and challenging service areas in their departments: operational processes, staffing solutions, bather load, public health regulations, energy management, and the list goes on.

Let’s start with the building itself. The days of rectangular lap pools or competition-only facilities are, for the most part, long-gone. The new aquatics center is typically a full-service building challenged to incorporate competition, instruction, spa elements, spectator space and just wild-assed fun. They serve as the major drawing card to most community recreation centers and, therefore, are both a significant cost and a revenue center in the building.

Once built, most new aquatics facilities are getting “loved to death.” These creations are more art than science and, like an Eastwood film, have a little something for everyone. It would probably be safe to assume that most municipalities do not have a formal system to ensure that on-going capital needs are routinely addressed and that the building systems and specialty infrastructure are being planned for major repair and replacement. So, our guess is that most major projects will be delayed.

In other articles we have talked about “systems thinking,” and while this article is not really about that, it bears mentioning.

Build a system where the awareness of your facility’s parts (infrastructure, operations, policy and financials) are a collection of interacting, interrelated and interdependent pieces that together form the whole package.

The Good

The play features found in these new buildings are changing almost as fast as the information technology hardware and software — water buckets are being replaced by spray grounds which are being replaced by water cannons — and the trend is to make sure the entire experience is themed!

As you embark on the initial design, consider adding a significant amount of additional conduit, which will allow you to change the scene easily in years to come.

Look for likely areas for expansion, and put in as much as you think you can’t afford. And, don’t forget the full-range of ages you are serving now and likely to serve in the next 10 to 20 years.

The Bad

Custodial Spaces – Be generous, in this instance; more is more. Smaller, well-placed wet-mop sinks and closets demonstrate a commitment to cleanliness that just isn’t easy to manage when the custodial supplies are all in the back of the building somewhere. Like good putting greens on a golf course, cleanliness is an absolute must in a recreation facility.

Energy Conservation – HVAC, pumps and other energy consumption elements are often under-prioritized when fighting for money against the fun stuff. The average government building is about 30 percent inefficient from day one, and aquatics centers, by design, have so much more energy equipment in them, so that average is probably low. When you couple that statistic with the average increase in the cost of energy (16 percent annually), you’ve really got something to think about.

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