The Winning Edge

With proper programming and design assessments, competitive and leisure facilities can co-exist successfully under one roof. © Gregg Shupe 2013 | ShupeStudios.com

With proper programming and

design assessments, competitive

and leisure facilities can co-exist

successfully under one roof.

© Gregg Shupe 2013 | ShupeStudios.com

As awareness of the operational costs of pools has deepened, helped along by years of rising utility costs, an increasing number of municipalities, YMCAs, and swim clubs have joined forces to build aquatic centers that can accommodate both competitive events and recreational activities. Fortunately, the understanding of natatorium-design efficiencies has also deepened. Satisfying all stakeholders in such an arrangement is a matter of solid design principles and sensitive scheduling and management, with both architects and administrators keeping the specific needs of swim-team members, spectators, recreational swimmers, and staff members in mind.

Operationally, dual-use natatoriums can be somewhat complicated. Ideally, the two separate pool spaces can be operated independently, with staff members able to keep participants in one program area from moving into the other. It all starts with an organized and efficient building plan.

Although there is no template for natatoriums, these specialized facilities have a defined flow and a number of important adjacencies that are necessary to make them work. For example, entry to wet spaces is always through wet locker/shower rooms, and the presence of separate competitive and recreational spaces normally means designing a secondary “wet hallway” through which male and female swimmers move from respective locker rooms to respective pools. And adding a spectator area to the competitive side, suddenly there are two circulation zones that, ideally, shouldn’t cross.

Break It Down

Even with these blocks of space tied into a relatively consistent arrangement, the specification of competitive and recreational areas requires consideration of a number of details:

Building envelope. The two spaces are generally separated so the competition-space atmosphere (as well as the water) can be kept between 5 and 8 degrees cooler than in the leisure pool space. Typically separated in large part by glass, the two rooms will be equipped with a thermal barrier to guard against condensation issues, although these spaces can both utilize an operable skylight system. Such a system at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in Hartford, Vt., is opened in conjunction with perimeter doors to give the space an outdoor feel in mild seasonal weather.

Air handling. Building codes will determine the number of air changes required for a space of a particular volume, and the separate pools will require separate HVAC systems for dealing with moisture-laden air. The introduction of natural ventilation, as at Upper Valley, makes it possible to limit the use of the HVAC system, a natatorium’s highest energy-using equipment.

Pool configuration and depth. Leisure pools often go from a zero-depth entry to a medium-depth end that is laned for lap swimmers, or separated for learn-to-swim, aqua-therapy, and water-aerobics programs. (The UpperValley recreational pool includes lap lanes with a 4-foot depth, which allows for a less-complex competitive pool next door.) Absent this, the depth of the competitive pool (a minimum of 2 meters is required) might be left unsloped, at least in part, to accommodate these uses. The specification of a diving well will also lead to changes in the slope.

Competition pool size. While it would be nice to build a world-class, 50-meter pool, the reality is that this type of pool is expensive to build and operate, given the huge volume of water and the atmosphere that must be maintained. Most operators will therefore “settle” for a 25-yard, 25-meter pool that can host virtually all competitions and events.

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