A competition natatorium is a room enclosure containing swimming pools designed for competitive swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and/or water polo.
These venues have very different requirements that may include dimensional specifications (short course or long course), diverse water depths and various components dependent on the level of athletic competition expected.
Generally, outlining the expected use — youth swim meets, national water polo matches, or both — is the first step in creating a successful competition natatorium. Once this is established, designers can incorporate components to ensure the natatorium’s future.
Today, seven governing bodies oversee competitive aquatic sports. They are USA Swimming, National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the International Swimming Federation (FINA),USA Water Polo, USA Diving and USA Synchronized Swimming.
A competition pool must be 25 yards or 25 meters for short-course events and 50 meters for long-course events. Depending on the level of competition, a minimum of six lanes is required, but eight lanes (or even 10) are expected, to better allow for larger heats.
High schools, USA Swimming, the YMCA and NCAA conduct short-course 25-yard competitions. For high school and NCAA events, a pool must have a minimum of six lanes, each at least 7 feet wide.
USA Swimming and FINA conduct short-course 25-meter as well as long-course 50-meter competitions.
Several current standards require 6 feet or more of water depth beneath starting blocks. While some shallow water is acceptable, high-level competitions demand “all-deep” race courses.
High school and college water polo often use 25-yard and 25-meter pools, but all high-level meets for USA Water Polo and international events are held in 50-meter pools. Water depth of 2 meters or more is preferred.
Synchronized swimming requires a deep, 12-by-25-meter pool area. A minimum water depth of 2.5 meters is preferred. National and international events are generally conducted in 50-meter pools.
Diving competition considerations also depend on the level of competition. High schools only compete on 1-meter springboards. NCAA, USA Diving and FINA compete on 1-meter and 3-meter springboards and 1-meter, 3-meter, 5-meter, 7.5-meter and 10-meter platforms. This affects ceiling height and water depth.
In addition to the pool itself, competition spaces also must include:
- Deck and spectator seating. Deck space must allow for foot traffic, a bullpen area and adequate line-of-sight for spectator seating. Seating arranged along the length of the course is best for viewing swimming and diving events. USA Swimming recommends minimums of 400 seats for USA Swim Invitational meets; 600 seats for USA Swim LSC Championships; and 1,000 seats for USA Swim National caliber meets.
- Lighting. While 100 foot-candles of light are required for competitions (more if televised), significantly lower levels are appropriate for meets and training.
- Scoreboards and acoustics. Depending on the level of the event, a scoreboard displaying key information generally is expected. Options range from simple line displays to a large, full-color LED video display. When it comes to sound, the PA system should be heard clearly over reverberation and shouting spectators. That means for championship facilities, high-end acoustical treatments are critical. Smaller event venues may not require top-of-the-line.
DO’S AND DON’TS
- Do incorporate sustainable design practices to save energy consumption and water conservation.
- Don’t build a natatorium with unmanaged natural light glaring in through windows directly across from spectator seating. Incorporate windows behind spectators or overhead.
- Do be cautious of trying new products. Being a guinea pig entails rewards and risks. It’s important to make knowledgeable decisions, and tried and true equipment experience may be a good starting point.
- Do have a procedures manual to make sure everything is legally com-pliant. Include policies, job descriptions and emergency action plans. n DO hire a highly trained staff, including Certified Pool Operator(s) or Aquatic Facility Operator(s) for day-to-day knowledge.
Swimmers’ ability to perform at their best is related to their capability to extract oxygen from the air, so it’s important to optimize your pool water treatment and natatorium air-handling systems to maximize athletes’ respiration potential and ensure high-quality air for spectator comfort.
Thermal comfort includes installing a permanent temperature and humidity monitoring system, including humidity control within established ranges per climate zone for the natatorium, mechanical spaces and chemical storage areas. To provide optimal air quality, automatic sensors and controls can be integrated with the HVAC system to adjust temperature, humidity and the percentage of outside air introduced into the natatorium.
One way to counter condensation is to maintain relative humidity between 40 and 60 percent. This keeps the dew point temperature manageable level and helps maintain athlete and guest comfort.
Another strategy is to maintain a relatively high air-exchange rate, with air streams directed at critical surfaces. This provides an evaporation rate off these building surfaces that exceeds the condensation rate, helping building surfaces to remain dry. Finally, swimmers are sensitive to water temperature. Water that’s too cold causes muscles to tighten, while water too warm causes overheating and lethargy. Water between 79 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for competition, and the natatorium building should be maintained at two degrees above the pool water temperature to minimize evaporation.
About the Instructor
As president of Counsilman-Hunsaker in St. Louis, Scot Hunsaker leads a national/ international aquatic design firm. A graduate of Indiana University School of Business, he was named to the 2009 Aquatics International Power 25 and currently is a member of the NSPF Board of Directors and the National Sanitation Foundation’s Recreational Water Facilities Joint Committee.
Note: Michelle Schwartz contributed to this course. She is a contract writer for the Counsilman-Hunsaker team, focusing on developing feasibility studies, master plans, marketing narratives, and assisting engineers and architects in writing articles for publication.