Category Archives: Operations

Managing A Cutting Edge Aquatic Center

While community swimming facilities continue to evolve and emulate the waterpark and hospitality industries, municipalities must determine if they can compete for the sought-after aquatic professional who can manage these types of facilities or risk contract management to a third party.

Rising Expectations

Residents are responding to a growing travel culture, vacationing in destinations with imaginative pools and spa-like amenities. Thus, when their community echoes these experiences at the new community aquatic center, they show up in droves and expect the same standards and pampering they experienced abroad where the foundation was impeccable service.

The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences is renowned worldwide for awarding excellence in the travel and luxury services sector. The academy, which started as a restaurant rating bureau, now reviews restaurants, chefs, airlines, cruise lines, spas, hotels and resorts. One of the main categories for the coveted award is staff, including pool staff. Standards that the academy uses for this award include:

  • Telephone answered promptly and with a proper greeting
  • Overall maintenance
  • Service overall
  • Tremendous attention to detail in every aspect of the operation
  • Staff: polished, suave, grace, tact, dignity

This is not to say that the municipal staff must spritz sunbathers with mist and offer towels, fresh fruit and chilled sorbet throughout the day, but after the aquatic attractions, a professional staff becomes the focus when vying for discretionary leisure spending.

Cutting-Edge Pool Staff

Whether it’s a $3 million dollar facility where a few people perform all the functions or a $30 million dollar facility where numerous teams depend upon one another, today’s public aquatic center will likely incorporate an aquatic director. The aquatic director (no matter how large or small the aquatic center) is accountable for the overall operation and management of the facility. Qualifications include a four-year college degree in the field of aquatic management and experience in park and recreation administration, physical education, marketing, management or a related field. The aquatic director develops the training of all staff and develops and implements all operational procedures and detailed emergency action plans while overseeing operating policies and procedures.

He or she develops annual budgets and an effectively communicated measuring program for the coordination/monitoring of revenue collection that includes daily activity records of all participants, events, cost-control disciplines and attendance reports.

The customer relations team includes customer service, sales functions, program development, promotion/marketing and branding—vital to the financial success of the facility. Staff qualifications include creativity, initiative and education necessary to expand the customer base through customer outreach to ensure that the aquatic center is seen and used as an asset in the community. Encouraging residents to use public facilities requires helpfulness of the promotional materials, perceived value against other providers, and public awareness that the facility addresses the prevailing needs of the aquatic community. Further, the community must be educated that the aquatic center is stimulating business attraction and retention, the creative economy, and tourism.

The deck management team supervises lessons, recreation and competition programming activities with a staff of aquatic instructors, coaching and sports staff, and lifeguards. Staff qualifications include Certified Water Safety Instructor, Certified Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Certified Aquatic Fitness Professional, and first aid. Highly trained lifeguards must possess a lifeguard, CPR and first aid certificate by the American Red Cross, YMCA/YWCA or Ellis and Associates. Lifeguards must be screened, and it is recommended that they be at least 18 years old to possess a desired maturity level for potentially saving lives.

The pool operations team includes the overall maintenance of the pool system and waterpark features for risk reduction to the users, employees and facility. Pump room technicians include a unique skill set, including Certified Pool Operator (CPO) or Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) for day-to-day chemical knowledge in order to operate the facility in compliance with the local health department requirements. Operations include industry knowledge for pre-season inspection to identify and fix necessary parts and repairs prior to opening. The team must meet critical needs during the season, complete the closing of the facility in the fall, perform post-season inspections to help identify and fix necessary repairs and major renovations during the off-season, and perform winter maintenance during the winter months.

Aquatic Consultant Assistance

Hiring an experienced aquatic consultant can be a plus when deciding how to find experienced professionals to manage a new aquatic center. A consultant can offer professional placement, whereby they conduct a local and national search as directed by the owner to fill key positions. Through nationwide networking capabilities, they may be in contact with soon-to-be-graduates in the aquatic field looking for professional placement. As the market demands more aquatic professionals, colleges and universities are responding by providing additional curriculum for aquatic professional career choices. Additionally, the rise of campus conjugal recreation and competitive aquatic facilities provides “on the job” training.

The U.S. leisure market is fueled predominantly by baby boomer spending and young professionals with an interest in travel, attractions and activities. While not competing for the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences award (at least not yet), municipal aquatic centers must strive for excellence in impeccable service due to the increased importance of leisure goals. Managing a cutting-edge aquatic center is contingent on a professional staff with enormous responsibility and a growing skill set.

All Stories

Parental Supervision at Aquatic Venues

Parental Supervision is a must!

A main theme that runs throughout the majority of serious aquatic incidents that involve children is the lack of parental supervision at the time of the incident.  And, though it seems like something rather simple, getting parents to properly supervise their children proves to be one of the most difficult tasks that waterpark operators face. Whether parents feel like their children are strong enough swimmers and don’t need their help, or they relax because the park has lifeguards on duty, the operator’s challenge is to promote the message that parents are the first line of defense when it comes to their own children’s safety.  This article will outline several ways that facilities can add layers of protection to educate and encourage parents to take ownership of their children’s safety while they are in your park. 

Getting the message across actually starts before guests arrive at the waterpark.  Parks need to make sure they are promoting safety through their website, social media and promotional literature.  It could be as simple as putting a “Parents: Watch your children” graphic on the homepage, or being very intentional about adding safety themed messages throughout Facebook status updates and tweets.  Operators need to keep the “rules” page on their website updated and add in safety rules that lay out the requirements for parental supervision, something to the tune of “Children under the age of 7 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.”  And, don’t forget to add the message to flyers, brochures and other park advertisements.  Letting guests know the safety expectations before they visit the park will provide for an enhanced atmosphere of safety and better educated guests. 

Signage is a great way to educate

The next opportunity for education and safety awareness comes when guests arrive at the facility.  Operators should not shy away from educating their guests through signage, employee to guest communication and policies and procedures.  If the park’s expectation is for parents to supervise their children at all times, then that message must be communicated effectively, consistently and repetitiously.  And, proper staff training is an essential part of this process.  The waterpark operator needs to ensure that their staff is well informed of park policies, rules and expectations, as well as properly trained to communicate those to the guests as they come into the park. 

At my old facility we started the process several years ago by placing signs at the very front of our park stating “Children under the age of 7 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.”  We then reinforced this signage next to the ticket window, and also throughout the park on portable signs.  Though the new signage helped, we realized that an additional step of employee to guest communication was still needed.  The next summer our guest services staff started placing a wristband on every guest under the age of 7 that states in both English and Spanish “I am under the age of 7 – I must be with an adult.”  While the wristband is being placed on the guest, it gives our staff a great opportunity to reinforce the safety message to the parent.  “I’m placing this wristband on your child as a reminder for both of you to stay with each other at all times.”  We have also added a safety graphic to the back of our lifeguarding staff shirts that reads, “If your child is in the water then you should be too!”  Use any and every opportunity that you can to promote this message to your guests.

Park staff also needs to be aware of the parent to child ratio for groups, camps and daycares.  Ratios should be clearly posted at the entrance to the park, and consistently enforced by staff.  Even if the group leaders understand that it’s their responsibility to supervise all of the children that come to the park with them, they may not be able to adequately do so.  This is where staff can get involved to promote and enforce the proper adult to child ratios before guests enter the park to ensure that not just supervision occurs, but effective supervision. 

In addition to the signage at the entrance to the park, signage should be created to place around lifejackets bins since those are typically high-traffic areas for parents with children.  The signage should not only spell out how to properly put on a lifejacket, but also that lifejackets are not a replacement for parental supervision.  Parents need to be reminded that just because they put their child in a lifejacket, it doesn’t mean they can shirk out of their responsibility to keep an eye on them.   

Park staff are your front line educators and rule enforcers

The next step to creating a culture of safety awareness and parental supervision is having a staff that will proactively enforce the message.  Be sure to train the management team, guest services and lifeguard staff to be on the lookout for unattended children and distracted parents.  Park staff should be trained to be proactive when they see these situations so they don’t turn into something worse. If staff see a parent relaxing in the shade while their six-year old plays in the water, they need to be trained how to address the issue and enforce the park’s rules.  Or, if a lifeguard sees a four-year old entering the wave pool without a parent, train them to call management ASAP or, better yet, to go ahead jump in.  There’s no shame in making a “rescue” before it becomes a real rescue.  When it doubt, check it out!

Creating a culture of safety at a waterpark through guest education and enforcement is no small task.  It takes a lot of planning, training and commitment, but in the end our parks will be much safer if we can better train parents to do one simply thing, watch their children.

8 Pitfalls That Leaders Commonly Fall Into

Parks and Recreation professionals are leaders.   Some lead an entire department as a director; others lead a division as a superintendent and some lead a recreation center or parks crew as a supervisor.   Leaders provide vision, goal setting, communication, encouragement, team building, discipline and recognition for those they lead.  And, if they effectively do this, they will receive loyalty, staff buy-in, teamwork, a greater work product, higher staff performance and less employee turnover from their staff.   Whoever you are leading, it’s important not to succumb to one of the following eight pitfalls that leaders commonly make. 

#1  Failure to Develop & Communicate Vision, Mission & Core Values

Communication is key

All leaders should develop direction for the area they oversee.  If you and your staff don’t know where you are going, then it will be hard for you to ever get there.  And, this doesn’t have to be a complex process either.   For the realm of Garland Aquatics, I came up with four core values that we strive for at our aquatic facilities.  We want our facilities to be safe, clean, friendly & fun.  These values are memorable, catchy and concise and provide my staff with direction every day.  When they get to work, they know what the goal of the day is.  And, remember not to just develop vision, but to communicate it. Use trainings, signage and repetition to get the message across to your staff.  There’s nothing worse than developing values, and then failing to communicate them.   

#2 Failure to Analyze Organizational Strengths & Weaknesses

Leader should take time to strategically analyze their organization or department for strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for growth.  The familiar SWOT analysis will help leaders to determine what they should maintain or enhance (strengths), what needs to be remedied or stopped (weaknesses), what needs to be prioritized and optimized (opportunities) and what others do better than they do that need to be countered or stopped (threats).  It’s an informative and eye-opening process to go through as you can find out the areas to keep doing a great job in, as well as areas that need vast improvement.  If you notice lackluster employee productivity, then you know that training is an issue that needs to be addressed ASAP.  On the flip side, if staff is dynamic and creative then find ways to keep it that way and maintain their high level of performance, or even enhance it through continued professional development and recognition programs.

#3 Failure to Hire & Train Great People

Hiring is important

If your organization has employees that are not living up to their expectations then it’s time to take a look at your hiring and training program.  When it comes to hiring staff, you want to be picky and not settle for someone because they are the “best of the worst.”  Don’t be afraid to open jobs to internal and external candidates.   Even though it may slow down the hiring process by a few weeks, it will only increase your chances of getting a quality employee since you will have a bigger pool of applicants to choose from.   During the interview process, ask descriptive and open-ended, behavioral-based questions that specifically relate to the organization’s vision and mission.  These questions seek to understand how the applicant has performed in specific job related circumstances in the past, which will help you predict how they will perform in your organization under a similar set of conditions.  Questions such as “Give me an example of a goal you reached and how you achieved it,” or “Describe an unpopular policy decision you had to make and how you implemented it” are a great start.  And, if you need more examples, then perform an internet search for “behavioral interview questions” and you’ll find a plethora of options. 

Once you hire your staff, don’t forget to train them!  Use introductory trainings and ongoing development opportunities to communicate expectations to staff.  Develop a comprehensive employee manual that sets forth the specific responsibilities they have and how to complete them.  Set up a schedule of in-house professional development meetings for staff over the course of each year to revisit the manual and the responsibilities and expectations that come with their position. The more active you are in the training and development process, the less employee productivity issues you will have to deal with.

#4  Failure to Set Goals for Staff and Divisions

Once you initially hire and train great people, it’s time to make sure they have direction for their particular position.  What do you want them to accomplish?  Are there specific areas of their professional growth that you would like to see improvement in?  What do they want to achieve in their position?  Goal setting sessions are a great time to meet with your employees (individually, collectively, or both!) to make sure they are on the right track to achieve the organization’s vision, mission and values in the coming year.  Once a few goals for the year are set, be sure to outline a “plan of action” which details specifically how each goal will be achieved. 

#5  Failure to Actively Coach, Mentor and Supervise your Staff

Now that you have set goals for the great staff that you have hired and trained, let’s not forget to follow up on their progress.  Supervisors should schedule regular meetings throughout the year to check in on their work productivity and goal progress.  Try to be actively involved in their development and give them constant and specific feedback as it relates to their position and performance level.  You can also have them do an individual SWOT analysis where they outline ways they can continually get better in their strong areas and improve upon their own personal weaknesses.  If their weaknesses become a problem in the workplace and their productivity level isn’t where it should be, then address their poor performance immediately.  Whether their poor performance is related to low productivity, a bad attitude, or a lack of teamwork, always discipline and correct the behavior.  Don’t be afraid to have crucial conversations where you are open, honest and candid with your employee.  Going through the discipline process definitely isn’t the most enjoyable experience for supervisors, but it is an essential one in order to create the most productive work team possible.

#6  Failure to Promote Teamwork Among Your Staff

Which road is your facility travelling?

Creating a team environment in the workplace is one of the most difficult things for leaders to achieve.  Whether you are leading a team of five or fifty-five, you need to be intentional about making sure everyone works as a team, and feels like they are part of the team.  A simple way to start the team building process is to schedule regular all-staff meetings with members of the team throughout the year.  Hopefully, when team members interact with each other on a consistent basis, they will act like more of a team.  At your first meeting of the year, divide your employees into teams whom they will have to work with for the entire year.  Assign each team one or two division-wide projects that you would like completed and have them work as a group to finish the task.  The helps you delegate a task that you are too busy to complete, and helps your employees learn how to work together.  Check in on each team throughout the year and help them work through any issues they may be having.  There’s no perfect way to get a diverse team of personalities to work well together, but using this team method is a great start! 

#7  Failure to Encourage & Recognize Your Employees

Sometimes organizational leaders get so caught up in what their job requires and what they need to accomplish that they forget to look at the accomplishments of others.  Leaders always need to remember to continually encourage their team and recognize them for their achievements.  Whether it’s a simple thank you note and a pat on the back, or providing lunch at the next all-staff meeting, make sure to acknowledge the hard work your team puts in on a regular basis, and tie it into your organizational vision, mission and values.  Instead of just saying “great job” when a team member does something outstanding, say “Great job on the risk management survey because that helps us achieve our vision or being a safe organization.”  This helps to give meaning and purpose to the work of the team member and helps them to see the overall value of their contribution.  On the other hand, if you fail to recognize your team, you could be leading your employees to burnout, instead of increased productivity.  As Matt Heller of Performance Optimist Consulting says, “I think burnout comes more from not understanding how important your job is, not feeling like you are part of a team, and not having a connection with your coworkers or your company.” 

#8  Failure to Lead by Example and Outstanding Conduct

Lead how you want to led

Leaders are often defined as being communicators, the “go-to” person, open-minded, problem solvers, organized, goal-driven and hard working.  These are all true, but they leave out one distinct characteristic that all successful leaders have, care.  You could embody all of the traits above, but if you don’t care about your team then you will not be an effective leader.  Because to put it bluntly, nobody likes working for a jerk!  If you aspire to be an organizational leader, make sure you care about those you lead.  Caring starts by the way you treat your team when you request them to do a task.  Do you say “please” and “thank you” or do you merely give orders?  Are you willing to do the exact same work that you’ve requested them to do?  Do you exhibit a great work ethic, or do you slack off on the job?  These are just a few questions to evaluate yourself on as you seek to become a more effective leader, one that is kind, compassionate, respectful and honest and one who genuinely cares for those he leads.

Though this article merely scratches the surface on leadership qualities and characteristics, avoiding these eight pitfalls is a great place to start to realizing your potential as a great leader. 

Is Swimmer Safety Your Priority?

While the sport of swimming has seen tremendous growth within the last 30 years due to better training methods, coaching techniques, and above all else better aquatic venues, the question is whether or not swim team safety really is keeping up with society’s expectations.

The last several years there have been plenty of fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents at swim practices that illustrate the need for the swimming community to pick up the pace when it comes to safety in and around the water.  We not only have an obligation to promote safety around the pools, but also to keep our swimmers safe through better training of aquatic and coaching staffs, having professional lifeguards or other certified professionals, and by taking steps to promote water safety for the community.

Is your facility staff ready for any and all aquatic emergencies?   Moreover, does your swim club or team promote and model safe swimming practices?  If water safety is important, then you must have a plan, have a good training program, and employ certified professionals.

Do you have an Emergency Response Plan? Being prepared to handle an emergency is the key step to having a safe facility.  An Emergency Response Plan is both on paper and practiced by all staff that would be involved in an emergency at a specific facility.  This includes constant familiarity and practice with all team members.

Is your staff appropriately trained for aquatic emergencies? An industry standard for lifeguards is at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training. While  lifeguards are certified and knowledgeable in aquatic emergencies, they still require continual practice to keep their skills sharp and prepared for anything.  So it would stand to reason that other staff members, serving in a safety capacity of their swimmers, would need that kind of training and practice to insure a truly safe environment.

The industry wants to shy away from the issue of should a lifeguard be on surveillance duty during a swim team workout.  But we must ask ourselves, is the safety of your swimmers compromised when it comes to swim teams and other aquatic sports not using lifeguards?  To answer that, we must discuss the role of a lifeguard vs others that may be responsible on the pool decks.

The term lifeguard reminds us of those mid-to-late teenagers who sit around looking at the water, and the term swimmer reminds us that these athletes are experienced swimmers.  So no one is surprised when we have not seen trending growth in swim clubs and teams having lifeguards at all times, as well as more safety training for coaching staffs.  And to be fair, professional teams may have lifeguards or the facility from which they rent already has lifeguards.

No professional can argue that training is not necessary and important for aquatic and coaching staffs.  But what does that really mean?  Do they know the latest science in hydrodynamics or the trending stroke development in the industry?  Part of having a safe environment for swimmers and water sports is not only knowing all the potential dangers, but also being able to recognize and respond to them quickly.  Knowing the swimmers’ abilities and not putting them at risk is part of the problem.  The number of swimmers per lane, their specific needs and abilities, or the pressure to push their limits can result in unsafe situations.  How is the staff trained to handle emergencies?

So what makes them professional?  As a supervisor of lifeguards for most of my career, I will tell you that certification alone does not cut it.  Neither does being on stand or looking good.  It takes constant training from management.  Not only does the management have to be well trained in emergency procedures, but they must require the safety team train hard, they must ensure constant evaluation of the team, and they must promote an atmosphere of positive development with these certified professionals.

To achieve these goals, lifeguards must be training constantly, with an industry standard of at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training.  They should also be evaluated routinely to ensure that the training is adequate for the environment.  Using third-party organizations to come and evaluate the staff can identify areas needing improvement and also demonstrate the staff’s training success.  But, without these key training concepts, the safety team will not be prepared for emergencies.  Unfortunately, as our industry has shown, we have been too reactionary, waiting until after an incident to implement what we know as safety.

Promoting and modeling safe swimming practices must also be strictly enforced.  Back when I was on swim team and the master of my lane, we thought we were tough.  We could dive in the shallow end without incident, we could swim underwater farther than most others, and many other limits were pushed way too hard.  But as we now know with science and safety as our guide, we have the responsibility to make sure that everyone is safe.

Teams must incorporate safe swimming practices for all.  We can do this through public awareness events and swim lessons for sure.  But all certified professionals must also model this behavior everyday.  Being safe is respectable and demonstrates to the community, to parents, and to the swimmers that our programs are not only professional, but also fun with safety in mind.

It is up to all of us to mandate that these safety requirements be upheld.

Supersizing Your Existing Swimming Pool

See if this story sounds familiar: You’re operating a community swimming pool that, in its heyday, was the centerpiece of summertime activity. It was the place to be on a hot summer day, when nearly every kid and parent in town would be diving and splashing and socializing by the pool. Now, 30 years later, attendance has nearly dried up, and so will the pool if the leaks and cracks in the pool and pipes can’t be patched together for another season.Even if the pool can be salvaged, is it really providing the recreation the community wants? The dwindling attendance figures suggest the answer.

Scenarios similar to this are being played out all across the country. A boom of community swimming pools accompanied America’s rush to the suburbs in the 1950s and ¥60s, and now those pools are facing their golden years. Most of these facilities are showing their age, while a few have resisted the ravages of time. Regardless, nearly all share the same attendance and revenue drainage. What’s the best way to turn this tide? The answers vary from case to case. Many communities have successfully modified existing structures and won back significant enthusiasm and attendance. Others have started again from scratch. Deciding which direction is right can be a challenge, but with research, analysis and some effort, you can determine whether renovation or replacement is right for your facility.

Hold On To What You’ve Got

Just because your aquatic facility isn’t a teenager anymore doesn’t mean it can’t have a little pride in how it looks. Just as you exercise and eat wisely to maintain your health (or at least have good intentions), an ongoing fitness program for your swimming pool, deck, bathhouse and mechanical areas will prolong the useful life of the facility. Even small acts of tender loving careBoth of these outcomes will help maximize revenue, and when it comes time to represent your case for changes, you’ll be able to show you’ve done everything possible with the existing facility.

Also,it will be immensely useful in the future to have substantive documentation of the current and recent operating history of the facility, so start building a file. Include safety reports, maintenance issues, attendance and revenue. This history will be helpful, again, when it is time to seek the support of civic leaders.

Know Your Customers

Before deciding which direction is right for the future of your community, you should know what the community thinks. Find out what your patrons like and what they don’t like. While this can be accomplished through mail or phone surveys, a more honest response can often be obtained at the pool by surveying customers in person. People are less likely to simply complain, and instead, will honestly and more constructively reflect on the experience at hand. Appropriate topics for evaluation include staffing, quality of service, cleanliness, water quality, overall appearance, what they like best.

Perhaps even more importantly, than knowing who your customers are and what they like, however, is knowing who your customers aren’t and why they aren’t coming to your pool. Often this is a much larger group of potential customers than your remaining active customers. You need to know why people who once came to your pool are no longer attending. Have the demographics changed?

It isn’t as easy to survey people who aren’t sitting by the poolside, but it is worth the effort to seek them out. Look through old annual pass records, visit competitive facilities, go to a local mall or other popular gathering place and ask people for their opinions and suggestions.

Another beneficial point of view can come from your peers in neighboring communities. Invite P&R managers to visit your facility and share their candid, fresh viewpoints with you. Often, when you see your pool day in and day out, you become blind to subtle changes that have gradually occurred over the years. You may be accustomed to something because it has always been that way, but a fresh set of eyes might help you see ways to improve the facility, often with little cost.

Accessing the Nature of Obsolescence

The closets, storage rooms and basements of America are filled with computers that still work as well as they did they day they were manufactured. Absolutely nothing is electronically or mechanically wrong with them; yet they are functionally obsolete. They still work with the software they were born with, but no one wants to use that software anymore; and their hard drives, RAM, and lack of peripheral equipment can’t keep up with the latest software.

Your pool may be similarly obsolete; and before you decide to renovate or replace, you should understand and be able to recognize the two kinds of obsolescence.

Physical Obsolescence

Physical obsolescence usually means your facility is simply worn out. The shell may be cracked and leaking, deck surfaces are splaying, concrete slabs heaving, recirculation and supply pipes are rusting and leaking, filter systems are malfunctioning, the bathhouse roof is leaking, the parking lot is crumbling, light fixtures are broken. These are a few of the many conditions that describe a facility that has lived beyond its useful life. All these things can be repaired, of course; but at what cost and to what end?

Often, physical obsolescence can occur for reasons other than deterioration, and usually, as a result of changing safety and health codes. Perfectly operational filtration systems can become obsolete as a result of a change in turnover rate requirements. A 10-hour turnover rate was uncommon 30-40 years agoSubsequently standards dropped to eight hours, and in many states today, a six-hour turnover rate is preferred.

Pool shells that are tight as a drum have become obsolete because of changing safety requirements for water depth below starting blocks and diving boards. Acceptable water depths under starting blocks used to be 3-1/2 to 4 feet when many of the nations pools were built in the ¥50s. Today, in the states of Texas and Michigan, 6-foot depths or greater are required These standardsmay be adopted by other states and could become the standard for future designs. Diving wells, hopper design and board configuration are also experiencing new safety codes to further minimize risk of cervical injury and impact with the pool bottom. Even bathhouses and entryways have become physically obsolete as a result of new health and safety code and ADA standards for freedom of access.

Safe lighting levels, GFI protection and other electrical requirements have also changed with updated codes through the years. Again, all these things can be fixed repaired or replaced; but at what cost and to what end?

Functional Obsolescence

It is possible?

Attendance erosion and revenue decline, resulting in increased subsidy, are all indicators of functional obsolescence. Recreation is a perishable commodity and needs to continually be refreshed to maintain popularity. If patrons no longer find it fun to use your facility and if it is no longer attractive to the market compared with other recreational opportunities, people will stop coming.

Functional obsolescence might begin with the static, rectangular body of water, but it can also implicate the narrow deck, the entrance through the bathrooms and showers, the isolated kiddy pool and the chain-link fence with the picnic area on the other side. Today, the expectations for aquatic recreation in most communities include zero-beach entry to shallow free-form bodies of water featuring waterslides, interactive play features, current rivers and bubble benches. Wide, inviting decks provide ample opportunity for socializing in sun or shade, with grassy areas, trees, shrubs and flowers giving the facility a park-like environment and pushing back to fences to the point of near invisibility.

Customers’ expectations can also lead to functional obsolescence of your entrance and bathhouse. People don’t expect to be led through the bathrooms on the way to the pool area anymore. Patrons also look for diaper changing areas, family changing rooms and more fixtures than what were provided in facilities built 30 years ago. In some cases, changing health codes make issues of physical obsolescence. But whether they are demanded by code or expected by customers, obsolescence is the result.

Mechanical systems, too, can be functionally obsolete from the operator’s point of view. Older manual systems may get the job done, but automated systems available today make it much easier to accurately and efficiently monitor water quality and perform other maintenance procedures. Continuous monitors sample water every few seconds, automatically and immediately making system adjustments to minimize problems and maximize safety. If something gets out of whack, the systems can contact the operator by pager or phone. They can even backwash themselves. The lack of these features might not make for physical obsolescence; but in an environment where saving labor costs and maximizing efficient use of energy and materials is vtital, it can add to conditions making a facility functionally obsolete.

Food services can also have an element of functional obsolescence. Today, more sophisticated, efficient food delivery systems provide a higher quality of food, with faster preparation and delivery, using minimal labor and expense. People expect these improvements as part of their recreation experience; anything less adds to a facility’s functional obsolescence.

Renovate or Replace

Finding out what your community wants and accurately accessing the degree to which your facility provides it are the first steps toward reviving your community aquatics program. Weighing the different options available to you is the next step. Of course, maintaining the status quo is one option but is doubtful to provide any turn of fortunes.

So, for many people, renovation and replacement are the real choices. The seductive excitement of building a brand new state-of-the-art aquatic center usually gets first review, but frequently budgetary reality quickly sends designers back to the drawing boards. In these cases, the opportunities for vast improvements through renovation of an existing facility shouldn’t be underestimated. Supersizing an existing facility can create dramatic improvements in recreational value and can increase attendance and revenues significantly.

A Case Study

In 1972, my father, Joe Hunsaker, designed a pool facility for the community of Shrewsbury in suburban St. Louis County, Missouri. The pool shared much in common with other community pools of its day area of the pool, creating an ideal teaching platform as well as a place for seniors to congregate.

By the 1990s, however, the pool had become functionally obsolete, and in 1998, options were considered for its repair, renovation and replacement. Ultimately, the decision was made to supersize thepool, working as much as possible with the existing pool shell to maximize cost efficiency. We designed a pool inside the existing pool, converting it into a leisure pool with tot area, zero-beach entry, spray features, shade structures in the pool, interactive play systems and a single flume waterslide with a tower designed to accept a second flume in the future. We also recreated the teaching area that was so popular in the existing pool. Other features included a water vortex and a current river with senior seating area.

The community had a long history of competitive swimming, so a new 6-lane, 25-yard pool was added with recessed stairs and a 1-meter diving board. Original plans also indicated significant improvements to the bathhouse and food service areas; but subsequent budgetary restraints led to the decision to put the money into recreation features rather than support structures.

The supersized renovation created many of the amenities popularized by water parks and aquatic centers, while working within the budget restrictions of the community. And it was successful in turning Shrewsbury’s aquatic programming around. In its first season, the pool enjoyed a significant increase in attendance and revenue, despite an unusually cool summer.

When considering the supersizing renovation option, it is important to carefully weigh the value of proposed improvements and prioritize them according to their likely affect on attendance and revenue. The parking lot, for example, may be showing some age, but people will not come to the facility because of its newly paved parking area. Similarly, people will be compelled to come to a facility because of its new bathhouse. Granted, those features may play a role in a person’s decision not to come to the facility. But it will be the features with recreation value?

Also, when judging the worth of one option over another, consider not only the initial project costs, but how the long-term operating costs and revenues will be influenced. One option may cost substantially more than another, but increased attendance and higher fees justified by greater recreation value may improve the long-term financial picture of the option that, in the short-term, is more costly. A professional design consulting firm can help evaluate all these variables.

How To Get Started

If your pool is showing the signs of functional or physical obsolescence, the time to begin the process toward change is now. It may take 2-3 years to go through investigation, review, funding, design and construction stages of development, so the sooner you begin the process, the quicker you’ll open the doors to your new or renovated aquatic center.

As stated before, start by documenting the state of your existing facility, including attendance and revenue histories, mechanical and structural maintenance issues. A professional design consultant can help conduct a facility audit to analyze the condition of your current facility and programming. The consultant can also prepare design options and individualized business plans for each option, describing the expected project costs, projected attendance and revenues, and ongoing maintenance, labor and other costs associated with the design proposals.

This report should also include an analysis of the existing competitive environment, existing and potential user groups and their expressed facility wants and needs, and a demographic study of the community reflecting population trends, income and other statistical evaluation of the community’s potential to support the proposed facility.

This information will be invaluable, not only in helping you make an educated decision on what proposals to make to the community and civic leaders, but it will also help you educatethem and provide background to help them come to a position of support for the proposals.

Ultimately, whether you repair, renovate or replace, it is important that you do so based on a solid understanding of your facility’s capabilities, the wishes of patrons both present and potential and a clear view of the many possibilities that can be explored to create the aquatic programming your community deserves.