Lodge Life

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do when planning a park or facility is to build something that will save a lot of money and headaches in the long run.

The problem is always budgetary. Cuts and compromises are often made, saving money and time in the short term, but ultimately costing more as issues crop up in the long term.

Fortunately for Des Peres, Mo., located just outside St. Louis, the city was able to create a high-end design with high-end materials and features for its new aquatics and recreation center, simply tagged The Lodge.

The Lodge really looks like a lodge. It feels warm and looks upscale (and, in fact, it is). And housed inside its lodge-like exterior are more lodge-like appointments. But, and most importantly, The Lodge is filled with a diversity of aquatics, fitness, sports and general recreation amenities that serves its public.

“Before The Lodge, we were more a provider of park facilities, and now we’re a fully-staffed department with a broad range of programs and activities,” explains Susan Trautman, director of parks and recreation for the City of Des Peres. “We really didn’t have a town center or main street. There was no place for people to gather until now, and that’s our tagline, ‘The Lodge is where your neighbors gather,’ and they really do.”

The Lodge concept is carefully tied to a well thought out philosophy, or value system, which girds everything done there. Each primary value has a list of sub-values that more specifically address how those values look in reality. For instance, under the Lodge Life value that says, “We provide extraordinary customer service,” it goes on to say, “We know our guests’ names, and greet them individually with a smile. We respect our guests and we are honest when responding to their inquiries.” And so it goes with the rest of the values, which include, “We, as a team, empower each other. We bring the community together. We create experiences worth repeating. We constantly improve.”

Each of the values listed above, and their sub-values, are the building blocks of the Lodge Life staff training program.

“We have a very high level of customer service. It’s not Disney, but it’s a step above the usual in how we approach people and how they’re treated. We know our customers’ names and their individual idiosyncrasies,” says Trautman. “We empower our staff to make decisions. If you’re working the front desk, and someone’s upset, within reason, you can do what it takes to make them happy. My staff knows how to deal with issues, and we’ve given them the ability to make decisions for themselves. They’re expected to solve problems at the root of the problem.”

Values Meet Reality

The values have been successfully implemented at The Lodge, says Trautman, as the unique combination of a high-end design and construction process with a high-end attitude toward customer service has infused the entire center.

The project, which was designed by Hastings & Chivetta Architects out of St. Louis, includes The Lodge itself at 73,884 square feet, and the outdoor water park at 30,450 square feet.

Inside The Lodge is a natatorium with a large pool that lives a double life as both a lap-swimming and wave pool. It easily serves special needs with a zero-depth entry and other accessible entrances.

The wave pool component is one of the nation’s most unique features, particularly in municipal parks and recreation. It helps fulfill one of the challenges that many in the field face; namely to provide the latest in aquatic leisure with more traditional services. It also includes an underwater camera system for safety that Trautman says has worked especially well as a training aid.

“It works really well for us, because we can do lap swimming, run swim lessons, and have group exercise programs that are all full, but at the same time, from Friday afternoons to Sunday nights, we can turn on the waves and we have a leisure pool,” says Trautman. “The wave pool is an expensive energy piece. However, if you’re in my kind of environment with so many choices, it works very well. We have so much flexibility, and people really like being in the waves. It’s a real drawing card for the area.”

Because of features like the wave pool, and the extreme attention to detail, The Lodge is close to 100-percent annual cost recovery. The high initial cost is paying for itself many-fold as The Lodge matures.

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