Know what you want to do, before you build (Design vs Programming)
When working with clients on new aquatic projects, the first question we like to ask is “how are you going to use it?” While this seems like something most people would know, we find that many aquatic facilities are planned based on the available budget, and not how they want to use it in the future. This can create challenges for sustaining your facility’s operations and keeping your clients happy. While the initial construction budget is important, the cost of operations will be three to four times the initial investment over the life of the facility. Therefore, decision should be made based on how they impact operational expenses and revenue potential, more than how they impact the construction budget. Here are a few things to consider.
Planning the Pool
While pools come in different shapes and sizes, there are three main criteria that impact how you can use it: Temperature, Access, and Depth. Different aquatic user groups prefer different temperatures.
Temperature - While competitive swimmers like water temperatures between 78-82 degrees, this is considered cold water and not very useful for other pool users. Recreational users like to have water in the 83-87 degrees range. If you plan to do infant swim lessons or therapy programming, you may need to have water over 90 degrees.
Access - Similarly to the temperature, different users need different levels of access. Most codes only require ladders or recessed steps with grab rails. This is not a preferred method of ingress and egress for most people. Stairs are the most usable and flexible option for entry and exit. They can be used by a large variety of people and can serve as a program space for lessons. Beyond the basic entries, you also need to consider entry for users with special needs. Codes may only require a standard lift, but ramp entries are typically preferred by people who don’t need a lift, but also can’t use the stairs or ladders.
Depth - Lastly, you have to consider depth. Shallow water tends to be more useful for programmed activities. However, there are certain things you can’t do in shallow water (i.e. competitive starts, scuba diving, deep water fitness classes, etc). Therefore, if you plan to offer these programs, make sure you have enough deep water.
Other Areas to Consider
Do you plan to have a large swim lesson program? Do you want to host large events with 100’s of spectators? Can your concession area handle a crowd during a pool closure? It is easy when designing a pool to stop at the pumps controlling a pool and the hole you put in the ground but a truly good facility looks not only at the water but also at the other aspects of a true aquatic center. Lighting– Lighting is often an afterthought in many aquatic center designs and often times, no consideration is given to how it can effect a race. Lighting is important for both judging the distance and gauging the swimmer position, in competition. A good facility design has considered a careful balance of natural light with careful attention to limiting the glare it could cause and un-natural lights with proper angles and illumination for optimal racing, all while keeping in mind the spectator experience and officiating requirements.
Acoustics– It can be difficult to design a facility that considers and properly accommodates for all the action but when you are in the design phase, choosing the right elements can make for sound dampening like wall angles and materials, speaker placement, spectator viewing area placement and athlete accommodation areas.
HVAC Systems–Fresh air is critical not just for the swimmers but also for the comfort of the spectators and those fully clothed. Spectators require cooler air with higher velocities as compared to the swimmers on the pool deck. When it comes to HVAC solutions in natatoriums, there is not a one-size fits all approach.
Deck Dimensions– Optimal deck space is really dependent on the types of activities going on in your facility. Consider staging areas, traffic flow, and viewing areas. Once your space is designed and built, it is very costly to expand you space and with the right feasibility study and market research, an appropriate size can be determined
It can be a challenge to consider all users that are affected by an aquatics facility but with proper planning and a good team, you can truly make a great space. Being considerate of your market opportunity and users can ultimately position your facility to stay on budget with a build and optimize the return by capturing an appropriate audience of users.