Winds Of Change

It’s unusual for any facility to sell 12,600 annual passes. It’s even more unusual when the community that bought those 12,600 passes numbers around 20,000.

More than half of the residents of West Deptford, N.J., purchased season passes to the city’s recreational gem (complete with gyms), RiverWinds. It’s a one-of-a-kind facility, at least in this region, that was extremely well-promoted. Fortunately — for both the city’s administrators and residents — RiverWinds would meet and exceed the hype.

Community Capstone

“I’ve been here 18 years, and we’ve been researching and trying to figure out a way to afford, construct and operate a community center. We met with Water Technology and Barker Rinker Seacat Architects and visited eight super centers in the Denver area and basically got religion,” laughs Gerald White, West Deptford’s city administrator.

“The whole vibrancy and family focus of it sold us. We’re a typical New Jersey community where time is very precious, and we were looking to build a center that would cater to the needs of modern, two-income families. We’re also a typical New Jersey suburb in that there is no town center. We hoped this would become the center of the community, and it has.”

The 111,000 square foot, multi-purpose community center includes two gyms, a fitness deck, a 1/7-mile indoor walking and running track, a climbing wall, a multi-purpose room, an arts and crafts room, a child care area, a teen center with vending and games and a senior center.

The center’s focal point is the aquatics facility, which features two pools — a 25-yard New Jersey high-school spec competition pool and a leisure pool with a zero-depth sprayground, two-story indoor slide, current channel, a whirlpool and three lanes of lap swim.

“If a community can afford some version of this it’s an investment that will pay off in healthier lives and an overall livable community,” says White. “It has a real therapeutic value. Some of the aquatics classes are particularly focused for seniors with joint problems.

“People with disabilities love this pool. It has one water wheelchair and a lift. The zero depth entry is something that even if you have a disability you can easily get into the pool. One of the best aerobic workouts in the building is to get into the current channel and walk against the current.”

White emphasizes the importance of building a multi-use, multi-generational facility, particularly since — like most of America — the proportion of senior residents will continue to grow.

White adds that the community center helps bring in vital private sector development to the area. He mentions a conference center and planned waterfront mixed use development around the center and along the Delaware River.

“An important piece of the ability to fund the center and sustain it going forward is the economic development that spins off from it. We’re entering into leases, sales and long-term tax agreements that provide a very defined revenue stream,” says White. “Even independent of the development, it’s a community asset that raises overall values and makes the community more livable.”

Operational Lessons

From an operations standpoint, multi-generational use demands that staff be prepared for the various challenges, behaviors and usage patterns each generation brings with it.

“We have a broader population with younger kids and older people, so you have to look out for everything. The guards have to be trained in the differences between watching the toddlers in the sprayground, the teenagers on the slide and the seniors in the current channel for instance,” says Cristin Veit, assistant director in charge of aquatics and general programming at RiverWinds.

Veit adds that being able to adapt to the realities of usage patterns is an element that needs to be considered by management. For instance, Veit says they had planned to limit how many people could use the current channel at one time, but found the rule wasn’t necessary, as it was not only large enough but was self-regulating.

Perhaps the greatest challenge upon opening was staffing. Joseph DeSimine, RiverWinds community center director, says it’s a good idea to bring key staff in at least six months before opening. “Even the part-time staff should be brought in to do some dry runs,” he says.

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