For commercial public and private aquatic facilities of all types, making the best use of downtime during the pandemic for key upgrades is a great way to capitalize on what is otherwise a time of dryness. And, according to aquatic play solutions consultant Cory Anderson, it might not be as expensive or difficult as some might think.
By Cory Anderson
Although many commercial aquatic facilities have been forced to close during the past year, some owners and managers have used, and are still taking advantage of the down time as an opportunity to catch up on maintenance and embark on renovation projects.
Forward-thinking aquatic managers realize that well-planned renovations can help bring patrons back to their facilities once they are allowed to reopen. New spray features, water slides, multi-level play structures, and poolside climbing walls, are just a few upgrades that provide multiple thrill levels to a wide range of visitors.
By creatively reassessing a facility’s space, and capitalizing on existing infrastructure, owners can create a renovation plan that will provide a quick turnaround on investment by bringing back previous members and reaching out to a larger demographic of new potential customers.
In most cases, aquatic facilities start exploring ideas for their space once they’ve noticed it’s time to resurface slides, repaint water features, or repair broken parts. As they contemplate their options, they are often left wondering where their community members will receive the most benefits in their existing facility for upgrades.
To help fill in those vision gaps, a large part of what we do as aquatic play consultants and designers is help evaluate the site. We guide you on determining the most economical, aesthetically pleasing, and patron-friendly options available to replace deteriorating water features and slides, or to update flat water areas. We sift through options that stay within budget, local codes, and a timeline that will give the facility the facelift it needs.
I have found it best to approach each upgrade with a reverse-engineering perspective. Understanding the viability of the existing infrastructure is the most efficient way to quickly determine what options are available. Often, older aquatic facilities have outdated attractions. Some of the easiest renovations involve removing older components and using existing water feeds to connect to a new highly visible and interactive waterfeature. Doing so, requires choosing the best solution for the space and water flow availability, as well as for the expected age range of users.
I’ve worked on several projects where we have removed an old feature that typically pushes hundreds of gallons of water per minute, and have re-distributed that water to a new and exciting multi-level structure that can be bolted directly onto the pool deck. By minimizing the infrastructure work, owners are able to put a majority of their budget toward attractive features instead of items that aren’t seen.
UP & DOWN
Aquatic facilities without existing play feature infrastructure also have options. All facilities typically have underutilized deep ends where the water is not appealing to tweens and teens who are looking for a challenge.
One of the best solutions for these areas is to add a pool-side climbing wall or zip line, which can bring about tremendous visual appeal and immediately attract older kids to those underutilized sections of the pool. These features can be easily attached to the surrounding pool deck and do not require a water source.
Water slides are a high-impact addition to any facility. They can pack a huge visual punch, attracting all ages. Some slides are small, such as Water Odyssey’s Fun Forms Aqua Slides, and are offered in a variety of themes and sizes. Popular slide theme options include pirates, nature, and sports. These slides provide a quick and simple solution for the often underutilized or maintenance heavy baby pool. These slides provide a more satisfying experience for even the youngest water play enthusiast.
It is essential to consider every age group when choosing your upgrades in the early stages of the design to compliment your existing facility. The most successful renovations are those that provide comfortable and engaging play spaces accessible to all abilities.
Spray grounds are a great way to accomplish this. This is a zero depth play space, with no standing water. Typically, these areas are partially shaded and fenced in giving caregivers a chance to relax and/or socialize knowing their child is in a controlled area. Whenever possible, plan for at least two separate zones in your splash pad design: one being a safe zone for ages 2-5, and another being a grade school or high impact zone for ages five-to-12 and over.
It is important to designate a safe area with calming water features that does not overlap with high flow and interactive features like cannons or dumping buckets. The arrangement of play features is key to ensure those with different aptitudes have areas within the designated space to interact and feel safe.
LEVELS OF EXCITEMENT
A variety of sensory experiences that build upon one another make the facility more inclusive for those with varying developmental and cognitive abilities. Designers can strategically lead participants through a water experience using an intentional sequence of feature placement. For example, a series may begin with exploration by use of gentle ground spray to the operation of high intensity water cannons or overhead buckets. Moving from one zone to another allows users to explore the area at their own pace.
One of our favorite go-to products for inclusion is the Mushroom Maze from Water Odyssey, which produces a laminar dome of water to attract users of all abilities. Kids can either play outside of the laminar flow of water or sit underneath it, which creates calming white noise and a glass like appearance.
Some of the more eye-catching options for community pools and spray grounds are multi-level play structures and tall tower water slides, which can be equipped either with exits into a pool or to run-outs. Adding a run-out increases the height ranges of the users and are not limited to only exiting into a pool for swimmers.
These features have been proven to be highly successful attractions. With all kinds of sizes and configurations, structures and slides lend themselves to virtually any reasonable space. The spray and safety zones, as well as clearances around the structure, always need to be in compliance with the local governing regulators of aquatic facilities.
Adding a visually striking feature brings revived attention and interest to a community gathering space. LED ground sprays are a great way to extend your hours of operation by providing interaction by day and a beautifully lit dancing water attraction by night.
While aquatic facilities are focused on welcoming patrons back to their pools as states allow re-opening, now is the time to explore renovations that provide a big visual impact and excitement for all members of a family and community.
Remember that there are many simple solutions like small themed or large slides, pool-side climbing walls, spray features, or aquatic structure that can be easily integrated into the existing footprint of your pool. Don’t wait. Get the solutions that fit your budget, footprint, and timeline to make your aquatic facility the talk of the town.
Cory Anderson owns and operates 80 West Group based out of Cornelius, North Carolina. He has been working in this industry for over 20 years and has completed more than 250 projects specializing in turn-key aquatic play solutions. Anderson is NPSI (National Playground Safety Institute) certified and is also sits on the NRPA (National Recreation and Park Association) Splashpad advisory panel to develop a splash pad certification program for park professionals.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Chris Thomas and Water Odyssey for their assistance assembling this article.