How do five municipalities agree on the replacement of two outdated swimming pools in two different locations with the support of the community and local school district? Cooperation, mutual respect, and options were vital to success.
It began when a 1997 Park Survey revealed community interest in new swimming pools for the Centre Regional Recreation Authority (CRRA), which serves the Centre Region Council of Governments (COG), including the State College Borough and the townships of College, Harris, Ferguson, and Patton in Centre County, PA.
Since the two pools were becoming physically and functionally obsolete, no longer the pride of the region, an Aquatic Survey in 2000 dug deeper. In 2002, an Aquatic Feasibility Study was performed; however, it came back with only one recommendation: build a waterpark. COG and CRRA, interested in exploring additional options, commissioned an extension to the study which was presented in 2004.
Park Forest Community Swimming Pool, built in 1970, is a neighborhood pool adjacent to Park Forest Middle School. William L. Welch Community Swimming Pool, built in 1959, is a more regional facility located on property leased from the local school district near the high school. Both CRRA and the school districted needed to work together to serve the aquatic needs of the community as a whole.
With various definitions of success for the replacement of the two pools, consensus didn’t happen overnight between the five participating municipalities. Despite COG’s large size of 32 elected officials, intergovernmental cooperation is respected. With effective processes in place to provide cost efficient and high quality public services, no agendas are forced through until a consensus is formed.
Park Forest Community Swimming Pool
In 2005, with the approval of the COG General Forum, the CRRA applied for a $22,000 grant to prepare an Aquatic Master Plan for the renewal of Park Forest Community Swimming Pool, matched by $22,000 in local municipal funds. That September, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced the approval of the $22,000 grant.
In February of the following year, a Study Committee was formed by the CRRA and solicited proposals from architects and aquatic consultants. APArchitects, in association with Counsilman-Hunsaker as the aquatic feasibility and engineering planner were retained.
The consultant team worked closely with the Authority, the Study Committee, staff and the community to prepare a plan to renew Park Forest Community Swimming Pool. The consultants analyzed demographics for the area and found the population growing. Via focus groups, town hall meetings and interviews, it was found that a waterpark was not desired, but keeping competitive swimmers happy at Welch Pool while reaching out to the rest of the public was a primary goal.
The consultant team developed four options for CRRA and COG to consider for Park Forest Community Pool: 1) Repair the existing facility, 2) Replace the facility with traditional style pool of a similar size, configuration, and program, 3) Replace the pool with a similar sized cutting edge pool with recreation features, 4) Replace with an even bigger pool with expanded recreation elements. Option 3, Replace the pool with a similar sized cutting edge facility recreation features, was the right fit and within budget. Revenue, expenses, and new fee structures were developed. The 111% recapture rate prediction (cost recovery of capital outlay from the income stream) helped to move the project forward.
Using concepts from the approved Aquatic Master Plan, the consultant team designed a variety of water attractions to appeal to different age groups. Instructional, recreational, and competitive swimming components of the new aquatic center include a 4,600 sq. ft. 25-yard L-shaped outdoor lap/recreation pool with a unique “grand staircase,” two waterslides, options for volleyball and water basketball, 1-meter springboard diving, 700 sq. ft. tot pool with children’s play feature, zero-depth entry, and an integrated spray pad.
The new aquatic center opened in 2009 with more visits than predicted. Historical visits at the old pool of approximately 16,000 per season jumped to over 38,000 at the new aquatic center.
William L. Welch Pool
In 2008, with the assistance of another DCNR grant of $33,000, matched again with equal local funds, APArchitects and Counsilman-Hunsaker as were retained to perform a feasibility study for Welch Pool. After the necessary due diligence, the consultant team offered five options, including again a wide range of choices and budget figures to choose from. Option 3 was selected to again provide a new facility with recreation amenities, but within an approved budget limit. The listed recapture rate of 87% was also appealing. Competitive pools typically attain a 50 to 60% recapture rate due to higher costs of deeper water. In order to attain a higher recapture rate, the consultants designed the facility with appealing features for recreation swimmers as well as competitive swimmers.
The William L. Welch Community Swimming Pool Renewal Plan began in 2009. The consultant team designed the swimming pool to:
- meet new code requirements
- serve regional needs
- keep capital and operating costs reasonable for guests and the five municipalities it serves
- cooperate with the State College Area School District for parking and land use
With unique topography at the site, the 12,300 sq. ft. aquatic center consists of an eight lane 25-yard competition pool with two 1-meter diving boards, and a 7,750 sq. ft. recreation pool with fun features such as a current channel, vortex, two waterslides, zero-depth entry, interactive play structure, and a 1,650 sq. ft. sprayground. Interesting topography was utilized for grassy hills to view swim meets, and waterslides were built into the side of the hill.
The pool opened in 2011, again touching more lives than expected as the communities responded positively. Historical visits at the old pool of approximately 31,000 per season jumped to over 69,000 at the new aquatic center.
By having a comparison of options, CRRA and COG were able to focus on self-sustaining pools with more features that would reach out to and better serve the aquatic needs of the region. CRRA and COG attribute their success as a respect of the value of goals and objectives of each municipality, making each piece of the regional pie attainable through cooperative agreements. The reality of creating an aquatic experience for all five municipalities was due to the consultant team, in cooperation with CRPR staff, directing the data into options for COG to choose from. This was significant in order to make comparisons, focus on what was right for the region and within budget.
By Todd Roth, Aquatics Supervisor, Centre Region Parks & Recreation
And Scot Hunsaker, Principal, Counsilman-Hunsaker