Category Archives: Design

Finding Focus

What You Should Be Doing to Communicate Better with Your Aquatic Center’s Designer

By Matt Ball, Counsilman-Hunsaker

This article was previously published on

At Counsilman-Hunsaker, our design team keeps the ball rolling on their aquatic center design projects because it’s what they do every day – aquatic design. Our expert project managers often know in advance what’s going to be needed from the architect and contractor teams based on code requirements, so they communicate that early on in the schematics or pre-emptively issue coordination documents based on what is going to be needed in terms of load requirements from the pool systems.

However, when it comes to producing quality yet innovative – and possibly unconventional – commercial aquatic pool designs, it helps to understand how to communicate effectively with your aquatic designer.

From this standpoint, it is helpful when the client themselves has an open but strong steering committee for decision-making. This supports maintaining focus on the project’s priorities and objectives while also offering key decisions in a timely manner.

“The best projects are the ones that have done their homework and engaged a professional to assist with the aquatic feasibility process,” says Carl Nylander, Studio Director for Northeastern America. “Then the design team is engaged once [the owners] know their priorities, what is palatable to their community, and what is ‘right-sized’ for their demographics.”

Particularly during community meetings, our project managers find that various groups of stakeholders have different visions for the new aquatic center. A competitive swim group, for instance, wants a 50-meter stretch competition pool, while the community-at-large desires more of a leisure pool with waterpark-style slide complex. They can often reign in those expectations if there is a clear direction on the project goals, budget, and other project facets provided by the steering committee.

The aquatic feasibility process itself is important in assisting the client and their stakeholders with assessing the current conditions and needs of the community. It helps to guide the conversation toward what a new aquatic center will be used for, where it should be located, and how or with what it should be constructed.

Furthermore, it provides avenues for deliberation on its use and the types of programming it should contain to help generate revenue while provoking discussion of its impact on the community as a whole.

George Deines, Studio Director

George Deines, Studio Director for Feasibility Studies at Counsilman-Hunsaker, finds that organizations that have gone through a feasibility process have a head start when it comes to the design process. “Questions such as the size and shape of the pool or pools, capital and operational budgets, and which aquatic users the facility will serve have already been answered. In turn, this assists the aquatic designer to focus in on the details of design from the start of the process since the big picture is already set.”

When the client and its stakeholders have the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions about the aquatic design process and are able to communicate their expectations, it allows the design team to focus on what they do best – maximizing creativity and functionality. Moreover, it ensures all the stakeholders involved in the design and construction of a new aquatic center are on the same page. Ultimately, clear and consistent messaging in the communication to your aquatic designer will make the lives of everyone involved in the process far easier.

Counsilman-Hunsaker is proud to offer an entire Studio dedicated to aquatic feasibility studies. If you’d like more information, please contact George Deines at or 972-370-3741.

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Digital Documentation

Moving Records to the Cloud

By Kevin Post

When was the last time you reviewed your facility day to day operational records?  Once a season or year? Not since the last time you created it?  Is it the same one you’ve used for years?  Documentation of maintenance issues, safety inspections, and water quality results is more important now than ever, but there are very few facilities who are as diligent as the law requires.  With more government agencies in both the US and Canada adopting the Model Aquatic Health Code, we have a new industry standard to follow for pool operating procedures and best practices. The last thing you want to worry about in the face of potential litigation or a public health crisis is if your aquatic team has followed the proper procedures for documentation requirements. Many organizations are turning toward digital storage and processing of their records to ensure they are complete and safely stored.  There are many options to consider, so make sure you are getting not only what you want, but what will keep you safe.


Every facility has some sort of checklist they follow on either a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  These could include daily opening and closing procedures, weekly cleaning duties, or monthly maintenance items.  The challenge with our current paper method is that there is typically no accountability for items that need correction.  Safety checks are the primary method of facility surveillance. You, your lifeguards or others such as those who handle facility operations and maintenance—or a combination of both—may perform these checks.  If these checks are to be useful, they need to include procedures for reporting issues and following up.  How often does your manager comment that the shower is still leaking and maintenance hasn’t come to fix it?  What if the checklist they filled out every day would automatically send alerts and reminders?  With a digital tool, this is not only possible, but automated.

A safety check is a quick method of assessing the condition of your facility and includes an evaluation of the areas of your facility such as: communication equipment, rescue, first aid and safety equipment, operational equipment such as lifeguard stands, lane lines, bulkheads and starting blocks, pool decks or waterfront shorelines, waterpark attractions, locker rooms (dressing/shower areas, restrooms), chemical storage areas, fencing, access points.

Other checklists may include a daily oxygen or AED checklist, a diving board or water slide checklist, or even a concessions areas checklist.  Another benefit of digital tools, is the ability to customize and create new checklist as items arise that require documentation.

In-services and Trainings

Another area that is critically important to document is your on-going training.  Every guards should meet an in-service requirement before taking the stand, but how do you ensure that every single guard has completed their in-service?  Your in-service records should include the dates and time of the in-service, what topics were covered and who attended.  With old paper records, it is hard to track attendance by person and confirm that they’ve recently attended one.  By using digital forms, you can create a dashboard that can highlight guards who have met this requirement versus the ones who haven’t. 

Pool Chemicals Records

One of the most regular items documented at an aquatic facility is the water chemistry.  These readings should be performed and recorded several times per day and even as up to once or twice an hour.  Historically, these readings were written down in a notebook that was stored in the pump room.  This notebook would get splashed on, have spills, illegible hand writing, and even torn or missing pages.  With digital documentation, the information is safely stored in the cloud for future access.  Additionally, with a digital tool you have the added benefit of your records informing you about non-compliance and even recommending actions for correction.

Pool Closures

Whether it’s a contamination issue (you know which one I’m referring to) or weather related, no one likes to close their pool.  But when you do, you need to document why you closed and what actions were taken to minimize potential risks.  Depending on the reason you had to close, different sets of information needs to be documented.  This makes it hard to create one piece of paper that can work for all situations.  Why would you write down the last time you heard thunder, when you closed due to poor water quality?  So, you either have to create specific forms for each reason for closure, or have blank sections on your forms.  With a digital tool, you can use dynamic forms that only require you to fill in information related to your specific reason for closure.  Now, your information is complete and safely stored for future reference.  Another benefit of digital tools, is that you can run reports that can show you the most common reason for closure, the frequency of closures by facility or timeline, and several other areas for you to identify trends and gain insight. 

Illness or Injury

Similar to pool closures, every illness or injury that occurs in your facility should be documented.  But not every incident requires the same information.  This is where digital forms help make things easier.  By having a dynamic form that allows you to select the type of incident, you now have a flexible form for all the various situations.

Lifeguard Evaluations and Certifications

After a lifeguard is initially trained, the facility is responsible for keeping up with the on-going education and evaluations.  Like in-service records, it becomes difficult to track who has been evaluated, what area they were tested, how they scored during the last test, and so on.  How do you know that the lifeguard who only works on Tuesday’s has had a skill review?  By using a digital tool, this information is easily tracked and viewable. 

Code Compliance

The biggest benefit of using a digital tool, is the ability to add supporting information and reference points.  Whether it’s listing the out of range values for water chemistry, providing the Model Aquatic Health Code’s procedures for handling fecal related incidents, or just a PDF of your facility handbook, all of these items help empower your team to be the best they can be. 

In today’s fast-paced society, our new generation of employees don’t want to use paper forms, but rather prefer a digital tool that is accessible, easy to use, customizable, and current.  In today’s world of litigation and risk, proper documentation is a key component of any risk management system.  With several options for aquatic specific digital tools, it should be easy for anyone to find a solution that works for their facility.

Difference in Commercial and Residential Swimming Pool Design Construction

Having been involved in the commercial swimming pool industry for over 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the planning and design of hundreds of aquatic facilities across the globe.  During this time, I’ve seen my fair share of the good, the bad and yes even the ugly.  For years my head has been ingrained with industry best practices and design standards specific to the commercial pool world.  Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that when I recently made the decision to make my family happy by investing in our very first backyard pool, I was amazed where my involvement was very similar as well as completely divergent from my commercial pool experiences.

Home Pool Fun!

First, let’s start with the similarities that are common for both commercial and residential pool design and construction. The two most obvious being the basic principal of containing and treating water for that can be use humans for recreation, fitness, training and a host of other activities.   One of the most important principals of swimming pool design is having a structure that can contain water with little to no water loss.  Whether it be concrete, pre-engineered steel panels, fiberglass, vinyl lined or other materials for construction, the structure must contain water.  Once we have a structure that can accomplish this, there must be a method of continuous water treatment. As humans immerse themselves within this water containing structure, there is a need to continually treat the organic loading that will occur.  Sweat, skin, urea, lotions, etc. are continually be added to the water which create a prime breeding ground for potential recreational water illnesses.  And for most residential pools, there’s of course the occasional dip in the pool by the family dog!  Fortunately, science and technology provide the ability to control these pathogens through filtration and chemical treatment.  It’s also worth mentioning that the day to day operations of swimming pools can greatly impact the success of pool water treatment but I’ll save that conversation for another time.

Moving beyond the obvious principals of water containment and treatment, there becomes numerous best practices, or industry standards where differences can be found.  Before I get into these items, it’s worth noting that a majority of these difference are for good reason.  Obviously, the size, use and bather loading of a commercial pool is typically far greater than that of a residential pool.  For that reason alone, the size and complexity of pool equipment that is used in a residential pool system is often to a lesser degree from that of their commercial counterparts.  Regardless of the size of a pool, there were several aspects I observed when dealing with a residential pool project as compared to commercial.  And while I could spend hours discussing the technical aspects of swimming pool design ranging from hydraulics to finishes, I’ll leave the technical jargon for a future discussion.  

Having lead commercial pool design projects for over two decades, I found there to be a significant difference in the level of detail and information that is required on a residential pool set of drawings.  A residential pool project is almost always done under a design-build delivery method and this means the installing contractor is typically responsible for their own design.  As a result, there often becomes a far greater expectation that means and methods will take a much stronger role in determining the detail in plans and written specifications.  Additionally, the review process for plans and specifications in the commercial pool environment requires plans to be very comprehensive in their development.  Because of this reason alone, there is little room for questioning how things will come together in the field on a commercial pool project.  My recommendation for any person who is going to invest in a residential pool is to always review your pool plans and do not be afraid to ask questions.  If you observe gaps in the plans or the information provided appears to be incomplete and lack clarity, don’t be afraid to ask your contactor for more detail.  Any good residential pool contactor should be happy to oblige in answering your questions.  If your contractor has difficulty in answering your questions, or is responding with vague responses, there is reason to be concerned.

Let’s now turn our discussion to budget.  I’ve often found individuals who have invested in a residential pool may one day find themselves representing their community in a commercial pool project.  These individuals can initially experience shock when the discussion turns to budget, as they automatically assume the investment made for their backyard pool will be comparable to that of a commercial pool.  In most cases, commercial pool construction typically requires a higher cost per square foot (SF) of pool surface area as compared to the residential pool market.  In fact, it can be expected that cost per SF for a commercial pool may be 2 to even 3 times that of a residential installation.  Primary drivers of this cost discrepancy can be attributed to wide array of items.  These may include structural and hydraulic design materials and solutions, as well as the supporting mechanical, filtration and chemical treatment systems.  Additionally, most residential pools have maximum pool depth of 7 to 9 feet resulting in less overall all materials for construction when installing a commercial pool that may include areas where the pool depth is 12 to 13 feet deep to support springboard diving equipment.

A most intriguing part of my backyard pool experience was communication.  I’ve already mentioned that asking questions is important.  However, what I found to be interesting is the difference in the degree of communication.  Often a residential pool builder will rarely deal with a client that has a deep understanding of the design and construction of swimming pools.  While it may seem obvious that when questions aren’t asked, answers aren’t provided, often the residential pool owner does not even know where to begin.  As compared to a commercial pool project that will almost certainly involve design professionals in some capacity, these professionals are tasked to ensure the project is delivered on-time, on-budget and built to a strict set of guidelines.  Even under a commercial pool design-build delivery process, there will be professional architects and engineers that generally have some say in the project outcomes.  As a result my experiences in the commercial pool industry have been that the design process is very communicative and detailed.  This micro approach then carries into the construction where design professionals provide observations in the field which are carefully documented through written reports.  When the contractor experiences questions in the field these are documented by written Requests for Information (RFI) requiring a thorough and written response.  The cadence of this communication as well as construction in the commercial pool world is often more intense as well.  Experiencing my own backyard pool installation, I found that communication was sporadic at best.  This is not to say my contactor didn’t care, but when the Owner is not asking questions, the perception will be all is well.  Often when I requested to have a conversation or shared my observations, I found that my residential pool builder was more than happy to discuss things with me.

Overall, the experience of having a pool built at my personal residence was exciting but certainly not without a few ups and downs.  Upon completion I found my residential pool builder to be very knowledgeable and wanted to leave the project with a happy customer.   Never forget that the only bad question is the question not asked.

My Finished View!

A Few Technical Tips for Your Residential Pool Project

  • Request that a licensed professional engineer sign and seal the pool drawings.  This includes all structural design calculations.
  • Make sure the swimming pool design has taken into consideration all geotechnical conditions.
  • Ensure that all pool piping will be pressure tested to ensure water tightness.
  • Pool piping should be Schedule 40 or Schedule 80 PVC.
  • Install a VFD on your pool recirculation pump as an energy savings measure.
  • All metallic embeds should be bonded and grounded.
  • When located in a geographic location that will require closing your pool in the winter months, ensure that proper winterization of the pool and pool systems has been completed.

Strange Bedfellows: Aquatics and College Football

With the NCAA official early signing day for college football prospects fast approaching, you may be wondering what college football programs are doing to set themselves apart from other schools. What you might not know is that programs are doing just that by adding aquatic facilities to their already high-class training facilities. Prospective student athletes can sign their letters of intent on Wednesday, December 19th and while these athletes are not only looking for schools and coaches that will help further their athletic dreams of playing in the NFL, they are also taking note of top rate facilities that will help them recover faster and train harder to make those dreams a reality. Counsilman-Hunsaker has helped many of these facilities come to fruition by designing aquatic therapy elements that add to the programs ever expanding training facilities. Trends in the aquatic therapy market for facilities of this nature include items like cold plunge pools, hot plunge pools, hot and cold spas with hydrotherapy benches and jets, resistance water training, and underwater treadmills that will help student athletes recover between practices and after games. Not only do their serve their function in aiding athletes in recovery but are also playing a huge role in the recruiting game. Trends such as adding graphics to the pool areas and adding wow factors such as waterfalls enhance the experience of the current and prospective student-athlete. Let’s dive deeper in the facilities Counsilman-Hunsaker has been a part of and let us know if you see your favorite school on the list!


University of Alabama

 At the University of Alabama, the accomplished football program and championships speak for themselves. In August 2013, the Alabama Crimson Tide’s $9 million renovation of the Mal Moore Football Building was completed.  Integrated within the new locker room are two new hydrotherapy spas used by players before and after football practice or games.  Other upgrades include a team meeting room seating 212, position meeting rooms and a player’s lounge. The hydrotherapy spas include one cold spa and one hot spa, with the hot spa having the capability to be converted into a second cold spa. The hot spa includes four waterfalls, underwater lights, and can accommodate up to 27 players. The cold spa includes underwater lights and can accommodate 27 players. The hot spa operates at temperatures from 102 to 106 degrees while the cold spa operates from 60 to 65 degrees. You can catch the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide take on Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Saturday, December 29th!


Clemson University

 Clemson University officially opened its new $55 million football operations center in February 2017.  The 145,000 ft² complex is the largest and most programmatically inclusive football-specific training facility in the nation. The state-of-the-art building connects the indoor practice facility and outdoor practice fields, consolidating football operations into one complex. Designed to support the day-to-day activities of players, coaches and staff, the new Allen N. Reeves Football Operations Complex further elevates the Tigers’ football program, and promotes the recruitment, training and development of student-athletes. Functioning as a home away from home for many of the athletes, the complex offers amenities that allow the student-athletes to train, study and unwind in one place. Features include outdoor leisure and entertainment space, state-of-the-art hydrotherapy, steam and recovery room, and a Gatorade fuel bar. The aquatic amenities include a stunning six bodies of water including a therapy pool with ramp and stair entry, Hydroworx 3500 pool with underwater surveillance system, a Hydroworx 1200 pool with a movable floor, a Hydroworx thermal plunge pool, a Hydroworx polar plunge pool and a cold spa that includes two hydrotherapy bench areas and underwater bench area located in the locker room. You can catch the #2 ranked Clemson Tigers take on Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday December 29th!


Georgia Tech

 The Georgia Tech football facility is the oldest in Division I and was host to its first collegiate games before World War I.  In 2018, the newly-renovated, 8,100 ft² football team locker room, located at Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field, looked to honor the past history of the program with an eye to the future.  The new locker rooms include a large focal feature on the ceiling for the team to gather around, 116 ventilated lockers each with a 15 -inch digital video screen that can be used as a nameplate or to display highlights, sleek interior finishes, adjustable lighting, upgraded mechanical systems, as well as new sinks, toilets, and showers. The trademark GT hexagonal pattern is expressed throughout the design tying the lockers, ceiling feature, graphics, and even the tile accenting around the spas into a cohesive and consistent branding element. The cold spa, capable of holding 18 people will be utilized primarily during post-workout recovery and includes an underwater bench. The hot spa, capable of accommodating 11 people, provides bench seating around the full perimeter with hydrotherapy jets. You can catch the Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Wreck take on Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl on Wednesday December 26th!


University of Iowa

 In the fall of 2014, the University of Iowa celebrated the grand opening of the new Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building.  Because of his continued support for the Hawkeyes and generous donations of millions of dollars to numerous university programs, the facility was dedicated to Mr. Jacobson. The new 76,000 ft² football practice facility will help guarantee an exceptional experience for the student-athletes who participate in Iowa’s football program. One of the main attractions is the aquatic area featuring a two lane, 25-yard therapy pool and two hydrotherapy spas designed to help soothe the muscles of players before and after football practice or games. Aquatic amenities include a 550 therapy pool with stair entry and varying depths of 3’-6”, 4’-10”, and 6’-4, a hot plunge hydrotherapy spa with underwater bench and hydrotherapy jets, and a cold plunge hydrotherapy spa with hydrotherapy jets. The therapy pool includes an underwater treadmill to aid in athletic rehabilitation. You can catch the Iowa Hawkeyes take on Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on Tuesday, January 1st!

If you didn’t see your favorite team on the list don’t worry. Counsilman-Hunsaker has been a part of designing facilities for the University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Maryland, Penn State University, West Virginia University, Northwestern University and University of South Carolina. If you want more information on these facilities head to our website or get in touch with one of our many aquatic designers to discuss adding a new aquatic facility to your university!

Surge Tanks

A surge tank is a water containing vessel that takes water from a swimming pool perimeter gutter system. Swimmers create waves when they enter a pool, compete, swim laps, exercise or just play. The perimeter gutter system captures these waves, or surge of water, so that they do not rebound back into the pool. A perimeter gutter and surge tank system are important in that they assist competition pool water, or any pool with a gutter system, return to a quiescent state which is a faster pool. Competition or training pools that do not utilize a gutter and surge tank system are slower and antiquated.

Surge tanks are typically constructed of concrete and located in the filter room or under the pool deck adjacent to the swimming pool. Cast-in-place concrete allows the swimming pool designer to size the surge tank as needed to fit the site conditions. Pre-cast surge tanks can be used as well but the dimensions tend to be less flexible. The surge tank size depends upon the surface area of the swimming pool. Most local and state health codes require one (1) gallon of surge capacity for every one (1) sq ft of pool surface area. Only a few health codes require two (2) gallons of surge capacity for every one (1) sq ft of pool surface area. This should be confirmed with local or state health department regulations.

There is a lot going on inside a surge tank. Piping from the perimeter gutter to the surge tank enters at several locations. The number of gutter dropouts depends on the size of the pool. Main re-circulation piping pulls water from the surge tank to the re-circulation pump and filter system before it is chemically treated and returned to the pool. Special consideration is also needed for maintaining atmospheric pressure inside the vessel. Typically, an air relief vent pipe is satisfactory for maintaining this equalization. However, the vent line should be routed independently to atmosphere to ensure that noxious fumes and vapors from the surge tank are not introduced into the filter room or natatorium. A water level controller should be installed in the surge tank as well to monitor the water level and automatically activate the automatic water make up control valve should the water level drop below design levels. An access hatch is always required to access the interior of the surge tank for cleaning and routine maintenance. When surge tanks are constructed under the pool deck adjacent to the pool, they are usually placed next to the deep end of the pool. This approach saves on construction cost as one wall is common with the pool.
Surge tanks are installed on the fastest swimming pools in the world including Olympic Venues, Universities, High Schools, Elementary Schools and Municipal Aquatic Facilities. If your aquatic facility has a competitive pool, training pool or lap pool and a fast pool is desired then you will want a perimeter gutter system complete with a surge tank.