Without a doubt, aquatics facilities are seeing more renovations than ever. We have a booming economy, plus our maturing industry now manages properties with varying levels of wear and obsolescence.
Not only are decades-old centers coming up for renovation, according to aquatics designers and builders. Pools and facilities as young as 15 years sometimes find their way back to the drafting table for an update.
While older pools may have reached physical obsolescence, with worn structures and equipment, relatively newer ones may have reached functional obsolescence, where features and spaces no longer adequately serve the community.
Whether sprucing up a classic property or merely a middle-aged one; whether a minor renovation or serious overhaul, consider these often-overlooked tips to get the center that best serves the needs of your clientele and employees.
Involve Staff at Every Opportunity
It’s easy to only include high-level managers and officials in the planning phase. After all, they must make the ultimate decisions as to where the funds will go.
However, many planning teams miss a key opportunity — gaining input from lower-level staffers. “They can contribute a lot of really valuable practical knowledge and information that can help influence design, certainly help steer programming and, without a doubt, help people set proper budgets,” says Justin Caron, principal of Aquatic Design Group in Carlsbad, Calif.
Maintenance crews, for instance, would know the state of the equipment and components such as filtration media better than anyone. And lifeguard managers might know if you should have towel warmers for those cold mornings with high traffic coming through.
“Little comments like that can be a huge factor in the success of the overall facility, because they can be incorporated into the plans, instead of staff just sticking a dryer in a storage room after the fact,” Caron says.
You could choose a couple point people to represent the staff, or some on-the-ground managers. But at least bring them in during key points of the process, beginning with any preliminary studies that are performed.
In addition to ending up with a better overall end product, involving staff in the design process can also reduce the learning curve for using the new additions if they already know what to expect.
Factor in the Functional
Understandably, your team may focus mostly on the fun, beautiful and revenue-generating new additions, such as a spray pad, climbing wall or all-tile surface. But most renovations will require changes that are purely utilitarian, meant for comfort or required by law.
At least one such factor is directly related to the changes you make with pools and other water elements. For instance, many codes require a certain number of restrooms, toilets, urinals, sinks, showers, changing tables and drinking fountains — referred to as fixtures — based on the amount of water-surface area in the facility. Within these codes, many jurisdictions require more fixtures for shallow-water areas, since they attract more and denser crowds than does deep water. Not only should your team remember these items, but also recognize that most of the most popular features for today, such as spray pads and kiddie pools, contain shallow water. So if you’re replacing deep water areas with these features, that likely will boost the required fixture count.
“So now, especially with codes being updated to integrate splash pads into pool codes and treating the splashpad surface area as shallow water surface area, we’re seeing projects that are having to add a $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 restroom building or renovate their restroom building to be able to accommodate the new water that they’re providing in their aquatics,” says Caron.
Codes aside, these features are crucial for your clients’ comfort and convenience.
“Nobody comes to your pool because of the restrooms or changing rooms, but they certainly will decide not to come back because of them,” says Kevin Post, principal and director of aquatic operations at St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker.
The same holds true for shade, an item that Post and Caron both put toward the top of the list of items that aquatics teams overlook when pursuing a renovation.
“We’ve never heard of an outdoor pool where they say, ‘We have way too much shade and we’re going to take some down,’” Post says. “And it’s really an inexpensive addition, so if you have nothing else to do and you’re looking to put some new life in a facility, look at getting some shade.”
For indoor pools, expect your budget to include proper lighting and air-handing systems.
Think of the adults
In addition to adding the splashy features that attract children of all ages, think of comfortable spaces for the grown-ups.
If planners overlook these spaces, this can be partly attributed to the evolution of aquatics spaces through the decades, Post says. In the past 20 years or so, aquatics managers have made it their goal to make their places more exciting. Quiet spaces were never lacking because, in a space with a basic pool, that’s almost all you had.
Now the pendulum seems to have moved to the other end, so planners should be mindful and employ some balance. “Now I see adults who say, ‘Yes it’s great that my kids can have fun, but is there a place I can go sit?’ Post says. “Creating an adult zone and adult pool, or a quiet area could be something people want to look at if they only have shallow splash areas.”
This is one reason his firm has begun incorporating more cabanas into aquatics facilities, including those undergoing renovations. These also can present a revenue stream, with more basic cabanas bringing a base price, and more posh spaces generating higher fees.