Photo courtesy La Mirada Regional Aquatics Center
 

The Los Angeles suburb of La Mirada, Calif., is in waterpark ground zero. To the north are Raging Waters and Magic Mountain Hurricane Harbor,to the south lies Wild Rivers, and right next door is Knott’s Soak City.

But the residents of La Mirada, a well-groomed burg of 47,000, weren’t satisfied. They wanted their own facility, one that in addition to amusement, offered exercise, rehabilitation, swimming instruction and a venue for competitive water sports. In other words, they wanted the ultimate leisure facility. And that’s exactly what they got when the publicly owned and operated Splash! — or La Mirada Regional Aquatics Center — opened last November in the heart of the city.

The $24 million venue is a testament to the city’s growing desirability: La Mirada was recently named a “Best Place to Live” by CNN Money Magazine, with the aquatics center being one of the reasons for the honor. Spread out over 18 acres in the city’s civic center, the venue is an elaborate leisure facility with two heated pools, a spa and a pirate-themed waterpark.

The final product is a reflection of the smooth process the entire project enjoyed. Indeed, the facility avoided many of the bureaucratic snafus that hold up projects of this magnitude for years. In 2002, community focus groups identified interest for a local aquatics center. The City Community Services Master Plan, adopted in 2004, backed such a facility.

In summer 2005, city officials entered into an agreement with the nonprofit Industry Hills Aquatics Club to pursue development of an aquatics center in La Mirada Regional Park. The club had lost use of a hotel pool when the hotel changed ownership, so management decided to partner with La Mirada.

While the project moved to the planning and design stage, it was decided that a combination of bonds; money from La Mirada’s general reserve; and $1.2 million from the Industry Hills Aquatics Club would pay for the $24 million facility. By July 2006, ground was broken — and 1 1/2 years later, the facility opened for business.

“The city manager called together her executive staff and said, ‘We’re working on this as a team and getting it done,’” recalls Tom Robinson, La Mirada’s Community services director. “Our initial plan was to finish it in 14 months, and we got it done in 14 months. There were also multiple contractors working the site and we used a construction management firm — CW Driver — to organize that. We had members of other agencies tell us it would take at least four years to build it, and anything less would be a train wreck. We used those words for inspiration.”

The result is nothing short of inspiring. From the life-size replica of a marooned ship in Buccaneer Bay waterpark to the three themed water slides and 500-foot-long lazy river, the leisure area offers something for everyone. For younger guests, there’s an interactive play structure with climbing nets and spray cannons and two spraypad areas: a five-armed feature and an area with water sprays that shoot out of the top of decorative flowers.

The venue features a 50-meter competition pool and a 25-yard recreation/teaching pool that was filled with young children days after the facility’s opening. Seniors, as well, are already passing through the elaborate lobby, complete with mirrored ceiling, looking pleased to have an exercise alternative to the morning walk around the mall.

The meticulous buildings and outdoor areas were designed by California architects Westberg & White Inc., while aquatics design firm Counsilman-Hunsaker took on the pools, spas and recreation areas. “This is a fantastic project to be involved with,” says Trish Soto, a designer at Counsilman-Hunsaker in the firm’s Torrance, Calif., office. “It was a one-of-a-kind career opportunity for us.”

Open year ’round, the pools are free to the public, and classes on synchronized swimming, water polo, board diving and plain old swimming are available for nominal fees. The therapy spa, perfect for arthritic joints and sports injuries, charges $3 a head and is open seven days a week.

When describing the attributes of the facility’s piece de resistance, the 50-meter pool, La Mirada Aquatics Manager Lori Thompson sounds like a proud mother: “We have eight 50-meter-long course competition lanes, eighteen 25-yard short course competition lanes, a 16-lane LED scoreboard. [The pool] was actually part of the discussion when L.A. made its [2016] Olympic bid.”

Though Chicago was ultimately chosen as the American finalist for the Games, it’s easy to see how the competitive pool would have been a powerful selling point. The vessel is surrounded by top-quality lighting and has television capability, which would bring down costs for a network broadcasting an event there. In addition, it features elevated seating for 300 spectators, with ample space for more bleacher seating.

Adding to all this is the fact that the facility has space for another 50-meter pool and a 600-square-foot therapy pool. But until Los Angeles can snag a third Olympics, school matches, local leagues and physical education classes from a nearby high school will make good use of the pool. It also boasts a coach’s room, storage space for equipment and two sets of locker rooms that utilize the keyless system.

The facility’s modernity is more than skin deep: Every detail has a practical purpose in addition to aesthetic. For example, the decorative concrete is designed to not reflect the sun, so bare feet won’t get burnt to a crisp.

The contemporary flourishes extend to the facility’s nuts and bolts. The low-NOx pool heaters are gas-fired and energy-efficient, and the high-rate sand filtration has the latest pumps and controls. For water-quality chemicals, the facility relies on bulk sodium hypochlorite combined with C02 and acid for pH control.

Of course, all this important machinery will mean very little to the kids zooming down Buccaneer Bay’s water slides, cooling off at its spraypads, or hanging off the park’s interactive play structure. And parents can relax at Buccaneer Bay’s shady picnic areas. During the summer 75 staffers, including lifeguards, instructors and attendants, keep watch over the facility.

With all the youngsters expected at the facility, the managers have taken steps to ensure healthy water quality.

Besides insisting on pre-swimming showers, Thompson says, “We have a list of standards we pose at our door. It asks anyone with an illness not to use the facility. We ask people to only change diapers in the changing rooms, and to wash their hands thoroughly. For young kids, we require swim diapers, and we provide those for sale. If a child is at the facility and parents cannot purchase them [for cost reasons], we will provide the swim diapers.”

From the look of things, the public won’t mind complying with the rules at the new facility. During a recent visit, guests — young ones in particular — seemed to love the extra attention to details, including Buccaneer Bay’s marooned ship, skull rock and cannon walls, developed by Counsilman-Hunsaker.

“All the attention to design details gives the park an extra flair and will bring people back [for return visits],” Robinson says. “We think this project will be a very special thing for quite a long time.”