Category Archives: Design

How wide do our competition swimming lanes need to be?


This is a question that I get quite often during initial planning meetings for a new competition pool.  The first thing to determine is what will be the highest level of swimming competition hosted at your facility.  Will it be a large international competition (FINA) or a regional type event for National Championships or age group meets for Local Swimming Committees (USA Swimming)?  Will it host college (NCAA) or high school (NFHS) swimming competition? Once this is decided, we can determine the MINIMUM lane width required by that governing body.

There are several additional items to understand as it pertains to lane width.  First, lane width is measured from center line to center line of the floating lane ropes.  These floating lane ropes typically have either 4 in or 6 in diameter floating disks placed on a cable stretching the length of the pool.  The cables attach to anchors in the pool wall.  The lane width dimension is therefore taken from one cable (center line of the floating lane rope) to the adjacent cable or from center line of the anchor to anchor.  The second item to understand is buffer lanes.  These are small “lanes” outside of the first and last lanes.  Buffer lanes are not used as swimming lanes.  They are typically between 9 in and 18 in wide and create a “buffer” between the outside competition swimming lanes and the pool wall.  Psychologically, the use of a buffer lane is beneficial for competitive swimmers in the outside lanes so that they do not feel like they are at a competitive disadvantage by swimming against the outside pool wall.



The requirements for each of the governing bodies are summarized below:


Lanes shall be at least 2.5 m wide with two spaces of at least 0.2 m outside of the first and last lanes

USA Swimming

NC – Lane width of 2.5 m (8 ft 2 ½ in) from center line to center line of the lane dividers with approximately 0.45 m (1 ft 6 in) of additional open water outside lanes 1 and 8 (or 10)

LSC – Minimum lane width for competitive swimming shall be 7 ft (2.13 m)


Long-Course Swimming

  1. For facilities built after September 1, 1996 – 9 ft wide lanes with additional width outside lanes one and eight
  2. For existing facilities – 7 ft wide lanes with additional width outside lanes one and eight

Short-Course Swimming

  1. For facilities built after September 1, 1996
    1. Short Course Yards – 7 ft wide lanes with additional width outside lanes one and eight
    2. Short Course Meters – 7 ft wide lanes with additional width outside lanes one and eight
  2. For existing facilities
    1. Short Course Yards – 6 ft wide lanes
    2. Short Course Meters – 6 ft wide lanes


The width of lanes shall be a minimum of 7 ft (2.13 m).  The two lanes next to the side walls may be wider; in such pools, outside lane markers are recommended

In summary, the minimum lane width shall meet the requirement of the governing body that will have jurisdiction over the meets that you wish to host.  Lane widths typically range from 7 ft to 9 ft wide.  When Counsilman-Hunsaker designs a new competition pool, we strive to maximize the lane width that will fit within the pool while providing buffer lanes; thus, creating the fastest pool possible.



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Middle Management

I’ve heard the world of aquatics described by my aquatic professional colleagues across the country as multifaceted, ever-changing, demanding, sophisticated, rewarding and fun. I agree with all these descriptors and because there are so many descriptors, aquatic professionals must remain proactive and constantly think about ways to change, evolve and improve their operation to ensure the safety of their guests and the success of their operation.  One of the ways to go about this change is for aquatic operators to see the value of their middle management team members, head lifeguards, supervisors and leads.

Every aquatic facility should develop and implement an aquatic supervisor training program that adequately teaches part-time and full-time supervisors the demands and importance of their job. When you see an aquatic supervisor sitting on the job, scrolling through their mobile phone, reading a book or doing anything other than actively walking their facility and supervising their team members, the need exists for a supervisor training program at that facility. Unfortunately, I see the above-mentioned behaviors far too often when visiting aquatic facilities.

During my time as an aquatic director, I had an experience that served to change my approach to aquatics operations forever. It happened at the end of a busy weekend at the beginning of the summer, when, except for one individual, my lifeguard team members and I started to clean the facility. That individual just sat on a bench watching everyone else work. When one of my part-time supervisors noticed him and asked, “What are you doing?” without skipping a beat he replied, “I’m training to be a manager.” While he responded in a somewhat snarky tone, the truth behind the comment was startling. From his limited time working under the supervisors that I had hired and trained (not very well apparently), he viewed them as lazy and complacent. And, he thought that if he stayed around long enough, then he might be promoted to supervisor, and he could act just like them.

That moment, I knew that something had to change, and I went to work creating a custom, weekend-long, supervisor training program that encompassed not only the ins and outs of their position and daily responsibilities, but also the “why” behind those responsibilities. Merely training my supervisors on how to do everything would not be enough, I had to train them on the importance of those things. The culture of our operations and the engagement and productivity of our supervisor team immediately skyrocketed, evidenced by our lifeguard and guest services retention rates and lifeguard audit scores. Through this process, I came to the following three conclusions:

  • The culture of your aquatics operation depends on you developing a great one.
  • The success of implementing your culture depends on middle management.
  • As Sasha Mateer from Deep River Waterpark likes to say, “Great lifeguards don’t always make great supervisors.”


Practical and Efficient Design Considerations – Swimming Pool Mechanical Rooms

To the untrained eye, swimming pool design may seem limited to the obvious, visual items: pool structure, spray features, waterslides, etc.  While these items are certainly important, the true ‘meat and bones’ of a swimming pool is contained within the mechanical room.   Pool mechanical rooms house the pumps, filters, heaters, chemical treatment systems, secondary disinfection systems, and many other items that are vital to the operation of a swimming pool.  The proper design of a pool mechanical room can drastically improve operations and ultimately extend the life of the facility.

Undersized mechanical rooms are the most common problem we see in preliminary pool design.  As mentioned above, the entire pool recirculation system, including all equipment and hundreds of feet of piping, is housed within the mechanical room.  Each piece of equipment must be strategically placed to provide ample space for day-to-day operation and routine maintenance.  Local codes and manufacturer guidelines also play a large role in dictating where equipment can be placed and how much surrounding “open” space must be provided.  As a general rule of thumb, the mechanical space should be about an eighth of the size of the pool water surface area.  While a good starting point, this number can greatly fluctuate depending on the project type and size.  For instance, smaller pools typically require mechanical spaces twice the size of the pool surface area.   In addition to the pool size, the type and quantity of pool equipment may greatly affect the proper mechanical room space that is needed.

While it may appear that pool mechanical rooms are a congested jumble of piping and equipment, in actuality, these are typically well thought out spaces.  Often times when designing the layout and configuration of a mechanical room, it is best to imagine the path that pool water takes as it makes its way through the room. As the pool water first enters the mechanical room, it will pass through the hair and lint strainer before making its way to the recirculation pump.  It is common practice in the commercial pool industry to house the pool pumps in a recessed pit to allow for the use of flooded suction pumps.  From there, the water will travel to the filtering system, secondary disinfection system (if provided), heating system, and finally to the chemical injection points before returning to the pool.  In order to avoid extra piping, fittings, and potentially larger pumps, it is important to layout the pool equipment in an efficient manner that does not require the piping to loop back and forth while inside the mechanical room.

Early on in the design phase, measures can be taken to assist the future pool operator with day-to-day operations and routine maintenance inside the mechanical room.  First and foremost, a work station should be provided near the pool’s chemical controller.  This work station, generally comprised of a small table and a chair, is typically where the operator will test the chemical makeup of the pool water. In an effort to assist with general cleaning of the mechanical room, it is good practice to design for concrete housekeeping pads underneath the filters, heaters, pumps, and any other large piece of equipment.  Keep in mind, many of these items will likely need to be replaced from time to time so it is crucial to plan ahead for these events.  At least one set of double doors providing access into the mechanical room should be provided for the replacement of the pool filters.  To assist with removal of the pumps, it is recommended that a steel beam and hoist system is provided above the pump pit.  Additionally, designing for removable railings around the pump pit will make for an easier pump replacement when the time comes.

Finally, when it comes to pool chemicals, special attention and extra precautions must be taken.  The pool chemicals can be the most dangerous items in the mechanical room if not properly cared for.  While typically not required by code, it is highly recommended to store pool chemicals in separate, well ventilated rooms.  If not properly exhausted, acid and chlorine fumes will attack and corrode nearby metallic items.  When combined, the fumes can create chlorine gas which is potentially be lethal to humans.  To avoid mixing of chemical fumes, each of the chemical rooms should be separately exhausted to the exterior.  It is important to note that both chlorine and acid fumes are heavier than air, therefore, these fumes must be removed from a low point in each of the rooms.  In addition to mechanical ventilation, each of the chemical rooms are typically required to be fire rated.  The quantities and types of the pool chemicals used will dictate the extent of the fire rating that is required by code.  During the design phase, it is critical to check the local building and fire codes to ensure compliance.



Design vs. Programming

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.


Other Tile Color Options

When discussing pools or water features most people associate them with the color, blue.  Water represents a refreshing, even relaxing or cool feeling of renewal.  This association is one reason why most pools and features contain primarily blue tile finishes or accents.  Nothing is wrong with blue, but in the world of tile there are so many other options that can be explored!

In today’s design, people are wanting something different – Different color palettes, different textures, different shapes, different styles, etc.  The goal is to have their pool or feature stand out and be something unique.   The great thing is, that goal can be achieved!  Pool tile options have expanded well beyond that of the traditional glazed blues and blacks.

When a School, University, Community Center or any other facility would like to carry their “colors” throughout a building this can now include the pool.  The tile industry has increased the color offerings and materials that are applicable to pool installations.  Tile can be a single solid color, speckled, swirled, patterned, clear, iridescent, etc.   One of the other trends in tile is the natural stone-look that can be integrated into the pool.  Several manufacturers have introduced specific tile product series addressing this appearance with color ranges from the white/tans to the greys/black.  The tiles surface texture replicates actual stone and enhances the theme of naturalistic pools.


Tiles today are offered in several different sizes and shapes within one pattern as well as offering a variety of color blends.  Colors from reds, greys, whites, greens, beiges, tans and many more can be designed into a pool interior and even be utilized on pool decks.  The possibilities are endless….