As interest in renovation projects remains high and budgets low, operators and designers are finding creative ways to expand possibilities and meet project goals.

“All facilities must be kept up to date so that the client base continues to visit — and not attend other facilities that are continuing to improve and look to the future for a better aquatic experience,” said David Admire, vice president at AdAu Aquatic Engineering in Naples, Fla.

Today, that means utilizing available technology, paying special attention to operational sustainability — and opting for smaller “face-lift” style projects.

The Park District of Oak Park (Ill.), is one of perhaps hundreds of agencies undergoing a pool modernization project. Like many pools, Ridgefield Commons is more than 50 years old. But the project, which will add a new children’s waterfeature and replace mechanical elements, is more of a freshening than a full replacement.

Using targeted renovations to turn a traditional pool into more of a 21st century family aquatics center is perhaps the most common strategy these days, said Darren Bevard, studio director at Counsilman-Hunsaker, based in St. Louis.

Others agree. “This past spring, one of our clients installed a splashpad. Another considered installation of a drop slide, and a third just wanted to upgrade the mechanical system,” said Daryl Matzke, vice president/director of aquatics at Ramaker & Associates in Sauk City, Wis.

In some cases, operators are choosing options such as commercial PVC membrane pool shells, designed to serve as watertight liners for just about any pool. The shell can last about as long as a new pool and uses the existing pool system. Most significantly, it can save an owner a substantial amount of money. For example, a project billed at $4 million or $5 million might end up costing between $1 and $2.5 million,” said Jason Mart, president of Indianapolis-based RenoSys.

Interest in PVC membranes has grown continuously over the past two decades, but with the recession of recent years, there’s been more interest from operators who “in normal times might have floated a bond issue,” Mart said. His company offers the product, as does AdAu Aquatic Engineering.

Ultimately, renovation decisions come down to the type of facility, operational goals, and — perhaps most importantly — money.

“Generally, it’s felt that you can save as much as 60 percent of the existing building’s value by renovating, as opposed to starting new,” said Bruce Carscadden, principal at Bruce Carscadden, Architect,  based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “ ...  Many public recreation aquatics facilities seem to date from the ’60s and ’70s, and as such, they are old and lack many of the modern leisure swimming features.”

In cases where there’s barely enough money to pay the lifeguards, let alone renovate, Bevard said he’s worked with operators who just want to bandage issues to buy time and create a plan to renovate a few years down the road, when they can generate needed funds.

“City councils appear willing to commit funds for necessary maintenance so a fixture of their community … is not lost,” Matzke said. “At this time, though, they do not appear to be willing to commit to significant new construction.”