There’s a word that Judith Leblein Josephs likes to use to describe the myriad activities that bring thousands of people to her facility each summer.
An ever-growing list of activity options are opening up to community pools, thanks to new developments or just inventive uses of existing equipment. Some devices are adapted for pools, such as log-rolling products and floating exercise platforms. Other equipment normally used in open-water applications, such as kayaks and paddle boards, are brought into the pool.
Josephs and the team at City of Summit in Northern New Jersey have taken full advantage. Over the past decade, Summit’s leisure center underwent a brand overhaul, in part to fully embrace the aquatainment idea. That’s how the Summit Community Pool became the Family Aquatic Center, a name that better reflects the facility’s emphasis on variety.
“The whole idea is that it’s everything — more than just swimming,” says Josephs, director of community programs for the City of Summit.
It was a strategy born of necessity. If community pools want to remain relevant in an age of trendy fitness studios and thrill-a-minute waterparks, they have to be more than … well, community pools. They have to become destinations, summertime hot spots that appeal to an audience that expands beyond swim students and water walkers.
“You’re competing, in many cases, with other places that may be newer, or fancier or sexier than yours,” Joseph advises. “So you have to come up with an identity of who you want to be.”
To distinguish her pool from the other places vying for leisure dollars, Josephs borrowed inspiration from the cruise ship industry. Just as a cruise liner devotes a staffer to creating and scheduling activities to entertain passengers, so too does the Family Aquatic Center. In fact, that staffer’s official title is cruise director, and he goes by “Mr. Fun.” The job entails overseeing a complete calendar of wide-ranging events.
“We want to create a better perceived value of someone’s membership or ticket for the day,” Josephs says. “You’re not just paying to take a swim for an hour … you’re paying for an experience.”
Popular activities include paddle boarding, kayaking and “float nights,” where people can bring big inflatable toys not typically allowed during general admission. Some of these programs attract adventuring 20- and 30-somethings. “Someone who wouldn’t normally come to a family aquatic center will come for paddleboard lessons before taking a trip to the Bahamas,” Josephs says.
“And they’ll go, ‘Whoa this place is cool! I’m going to join.’”