Category Archives: Operations

Weather Policy

Weather policies at outdoor aquatic facilities are a critical component of both your safety protocol and your guest service protocol. When developing a weather policy you want to ensure that you keep the guest’s safety as the key priority, but balance that with service, as well. There’s a way to keep your guests safe and happy and that’s the balance you need to find. Clearing a pool should be immediate upon the first sight of lightning or sound of thunder, and the pool(s) should remain clear for at least 30 minutes after the last strike of lighting or sound of thunder. During this time your facility staff needs to keep guests and staff clear of the water, trees and other equipment that could be an attractor to a lightning strike.

While this is fairly cut and dry information, the hard part comes when determining what to do with the 200, 500 or 1,000 guests who are currently in your park who paid a pretty penny to come and enjoy an afternoon at the family aquatic center of waterpark. You want to make sure that on these days where you have to clear for weather that you don’t lose all of your revenue, but you also need to be gracious to your guests who had their stay shortened. Providing rain checks (instead of a cash refund) should be a no-brainer when it comes to balancing service vs. business. A typical industry standard in regards to severe weather is to not automatically give out rain checks in the event of severe weather; rather, write into your policy “If operations are suspended for more than 60 minutes, guests who remain in the park are eligible for a rain check for another day.” This prevents giving out rain checks when a quick 15-20 minute thunderstorm is merely on the outer edges of your park, but doesn’t cause you to clear the pool for more than 30-45 minutes.

In summation, remember that safety trumps service in the event of severe weather and life safety, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fair and reasonable policy in place to keep your guests satisfied in the event of severe weather.

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Various User Groups

The municipal aquatic center found a happy merge of the convenience of a public pool with various fun features of the commercial waterpark while segregating creative water play areas for various age groups. Aquatic attractions have become much more age defined with age limitations and appropriateness due to elements of thrill and capabilities. Tots enjoy shallow pools with gentle water features and play areas tucked securely out of the way of the more active areas. Once children grow out of the tot stage they romp in zero-beach free-form pools and make their adventurous way across water walks and participatory play features with “just-their-size” waterslides. Older children speed down flume and drop waterslides and enjoy large water play structures. Teens enjoy gathering spots like action islands with access to deep water pools and extreme features (dizzying swirl slides and competing FlowRiders). Lazy rivers and current channels accomodate just about everyone while spas and lap lanes are geared for adults.

Just like other parks and recreation amenities, aquatic centers stimulate local economic development. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, parks and recreation areas may enhance the value of nearby land 15-20% as recreation amenities encourage happier and healthier families, positive business growth, and economic development opportunities. Creative people choose to live in communities with first-class amenities and cutting edge experiences. Further, championship venues bring tourism revenue to local hotels, restaurants, and stores. Activities enlarge the tax base and stimulate the economy, which then provide more tax revenue that the agency can use to enhance or expand infrastructure, facilities, programs and services.

Championship venues have seen a rise in building “fast” pools. Twenty years ago swimmers swam nearly their entire race at the surface. Today, most elite swimmers swim a large percentage of their races 3 to 4 feet below the surface, utilizing a butterfly (dolphin) kicking technique. This technique has been shown to create turbulence that extends far beyond the boundary layer produced in other strokes. Consequently, pool depth more closely correlates to swimming speed. The exceptionally fast pool features wide gutter construction, carefully calibrated water depth, gutter hung touchpads that do not disrupt the gutter’s ability to absorb wave energy, and well-designed and properly tensioned floating lane lines to keep the swimmer’s waves isolated in one lane while smoothing out the water within the lane.

Climate-controlled venue natatoriums offer a year-round, light-filled swimming experience with a 50-meter by 25-yard pool or a 25-meter by 25-yard pool. Other amenities include 1-meter and 3-meter springboards, a Colorado Timing system, full color video scoreboard, high quality sound system, and ample spectator seats. A swimmer’s ability to see pool wall targets, floor markings and other swimmers is critically related to good visibility, which depends upon water clarity, state-of-the-art filtration and chemical treatment systems, as well as one hundred foot-candles of light, more if televised. All surfaces touched by the swimmer, such as walls and starting blocks, are slip resistant surfaces. A movable bulkhead offers versatility to accommodate other aquatic lessons, fitness, and activities while a whirlpool spa extends a rejuvenating sanctuary for soothing muscles.

The development of campus leisure pools with lap lanes, large spas, bubble benches, current channels and lots of open space represents a changing facet of the recreation scene at colleges and universities. Today, rather than pools that support select, elite student athletes, schools gravitate toward facilities that support the entire student body, including ADA populations. It is reported that facilities that offer students a place on campus to pursue exercise, leisure experiences, and recreation opportunities have proven to be populated showpieces and an enormous recruitment tool. Moreover, a major clientele benefit of school leisure pools is the quadrennial turnover; schools are always recruiting new “clients” for whom the leisure pool remains a fresh experience.

Due to the associated health benefits of the warm water wellness experience, therapy pools have grown in medical-based popularity. Aquatic therapists provide rehabilitation movements to clients in warm water pools that involve exercise and motion to increase the dynamics of blood pressure and blood and lymph circulation as well as decreasing swelling in skin and other tissues. Users include injured athletes, post operative patients, the disabled (permanent and temporary), arthritis sufferers, diabetics, pregnant women, aging baby boomers, meditation enthusiasts, and obese patients. Ergonomically well-designed aquatic therapy environments offer easy access ramps, perimeter railings, aerobic steppers, treadmills, underwater benches, flexible pool depths for multiple programmatic needs, high-quality water chemical treatment systems, and an appropriately designed HVAC/DH system. Pleasing environments—tranquil waterfalls, natural daylight, aromatherapy, and ambient music from a built-in sound system—cradles the mind and body in a relaxing, soothing, and peaceful way.

Fierce competitors for leisure spending dollars coupled with the versatility of today’s products make it possible to build imaginative pools and provide authentic, functional settings. Immersive waterscapes have become the norm for waterparks and the resort experience as the hospitality and waterpark industries have exploded in destination waterscapes that create indelible memories in sought after locations. With the continued advancement in the fabrication of water features for safety, fun and fantasy, themed waterscapes create water jungles, pirate coves, and Mayan temples (to name only a few) with physical fitness and imaginative play for a whole day of fun. Some pools blend with their exquisite regional architecture and landscapes while others translocate guests to far away places with immersive environments. A concentration of immersive environments can be observed in the Wisconsin Dells, Las Vegas, and Orlando, where the amusement and leisure industry offer four-season destinations with hybrid segments of water, theme, and amusement parks.

Updating Policies

One of the primary keys to having a successful aquatic facility operation is the development and implementation of policies and procedures.  Aquatic facilities need policies in regards to a variety of issues that will come up on a daily basis, including hours of operations, admission prices and refunds, severe weather, parental supervision, outside groups and camps, swim wear restrictions, acceptable behaviors and whether or not guests can bring in outside food or drink. While this is quite a long list, it’s imperative to your operation to have these spelled out so that both your team and your guests are on the same page.

After the policies are written, there are two main areas to focus on: guest communication and employee training. The policies need to be written and communicated clearly to your guests through multiple platforms such as signage at your park, as well as on your website.  The more information you provide for your guests before they enter your park, the better experience they will have. 

It’s not enough for the guests to know the policies, but also for your employee team.  They need to know all of your policies and procedures backwards and forwards, including the rationale behind them so that when issues do arise they can accurately and consistently communicate them with your guests. 

Be sure to keep a list of policies that get a lot of complaints from your guests so that you can analyze, review and update them on a regular basis.  Once you take the time to develop and communicate policies with your guests, and provide training on them to your employee team, your organization will continue to offer great service for years to come.


It Is critical that all aquatic operations have a comprehensive onboarding and training process for all new and returning team members.  Back in my aquatic manager days, I made the mistake of telling myself that I “didn’t have time for training my management/supervisory team” and that was the biggest mistake I ever made, and I really paid for it.DSCN1464 (640x480)

Over the course of several years I developed a weekend management team training prior to the summer season that overviewed leadership, risk management, guest service, employee relation tactics, etc.  Once this was fully implemented my leadership team started exhibiting all of the behaviors that I wanted to see (hard work, great attitude, service minded) and it trickled down to the lifeguards and guest services staff. They no longer tolerated their fellow management team members that has a poor work ethic and bad attitude and the entire team really started to thrive over the course of the next few summers.  And, it happened because I simply took the time to train my team.

If you’re currently struggling with your part-time supervisors and leadership, here’s a few tips to help get you started.

  1. Keep a list of all the poor behaviors that your team members exhibit and start identifying ways to train them better so they start to exhibit good behaviors.
  2. Keep a list of every question that a team member asks you over the course of a season and start to develop a comprehensive document that answers all of these questions.  Then, spend a day training your team on these questions/answers and scenarios which will better enable them to properly do their job.
  3. Provide a great vision for your team.  In order for them to get where you want them to be, they have to know where it is!


When the economy is healthy, there are plenty of opportunities to generate new revenue streams that help carry subsidized programs. When the economy is not so healthy, budgets are slashed in order to protect revenue generating programs. Recreation professionals are left with the decision of limiting programs, cutting hours, or even forgoing equipment improvements and repairs.

Operations include three operating models: subsidy, breakeven, and positive cash flow. Subsidy uses tax dollars to pay operating expenses while the breakeven model is able to pay its own operating expenses. Positive cash flow is the facility that is able to pay its own operating expenses and build revenue. While older facilities are typically subsidized due to higher costs of maintenance and fewer swimmers, a sustainable model is the norm for new facilities, with fiscal operations driven by programming revenue.

If economics are adversely affecting your operations, idle reactions garner a feeling of helplessness when realities of change are taking place. When things are out of control and it becomes necessary to react quickly, something has to be done to regain normality. It becomes necessary to ensure that sustainable and adaptive decisions are made for future changes.

Review your Market to look for Program Opportunities

Warning signs from demographic tracking can help determine when a new look at current programs may need to take place. It’s worth the effort to annually update your population characteristics to understand the growth/decline of age groups, income levels, and housing startups or the slowdown of housing replacement. A valuable tool is to examine the youth numbers in the preschools and schools through 8th grade to determine if significant changes have taken place over time. If the economy caused a shift in your community, examine what new opportunities may exist for new segments of the population. Other ways to predict change in the community is by getting close to the consumer through community mining.

Fee Structure

If income trends have changed, pricing policies for daily admissions and concessions become sensitive. It might be recommended that nonresident fees be applied or adjusted if outer areas have higher incomes. If annual passes are too high for some families, solutions might offer weekday-only passes, weekend-only passes, partial season passes or quantity passes. Discounts may apply to those who register early or as a renewal incentive to established customers. During community presentations, it is important to highlight the fact that competitors are charging initiation/joining fees and you are not.


In order to save taxpayers money, gleaning information from your competitors is beneficial in finding gaps, improving policies and fees, and creating opportunities to utilize competitor weaknesses. Find out how many nonresidents your competitors are serving, which may be pulling from your community if your current attendance is down. A data comparison will look to find programming weaknesses in order to out-think your competitors.


While it is the responsibility of the municipality to take a leadership role in managing evolving customer expectations, it is also your responsibility to manage the politics. The department’s programs and facilities (parks, beaches, events, festivals, athletic tournaments, historical sites, cultural performances, aquatic centers, etc.) must be prepared to demonstrate the success of programs, showing that they provide more tax revenues that you can either use to maintain the community’s infrastructure, facilities, and services, or to reduce the level of taxes that residents currently pay. This is why it is so important to keep good financial records. Moreover, if a program is cut, you have data indicating the reason(s).


Technology is always looking for ways to save money, especially during economic downturns. An assessment of current and past budgets can look to see if operations are impacted by rising costs of utilities, chemicals, and maintenance. There is escalating momentum for environmentally responsible building practices, and aquatic/recreation design teams embrace green technology. By implementing sustainable equipment, money will be saved in the long run. Operating goals should include maximizing sustainable design for efficient operations and being responsible in using natural resources. Advantages include:

  • Reduce waste sent to landfills
  • Lower operating costs and increased asset value
  • Conserve energy and water
  • Healthier and safer for occupants
  • Reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions
  • Qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other varying incentives


Whether your financial model is subsidized, break-even, or positive cash flow, taking a critical look at you operations can help identify improvements to increase sustainability. An in-depth review can shine a new light on programs, fee structures, attendance, revenue, and expenses congruent with local reality. Just like a racecar driver, you need to accelerate through the turn to make sure you are in the lead for the straightaway.