In With the New

Getting the best of both worlds in Cleburne, Texas, at its multi-use aquatics facility

There's always a tension of sorts when it comes time to renovate or replace an old pool. The tension exists between creating what is basically a family fun park and one that allows more traditional usage.

In Cleburne, Texas, parks and recreation seems to have reached that balance with a new two-acre aquatics center that's a citywide and regional waterpark attraction, and has the ability to host swim competitions and swimming and adaptive recreation programming.

The center opened on July 19, 2004, and includes an eight-lane, 25-yard competition lap pool with a full gutter system and two one-meter springboards, a zero-depth leisure pool with a large spray ground in front, a large play feature with small slides on it, a current channel, vortex pool, a horseshoe-shaped seating are and two large tube slides. The center also has two decks under large pecan trees, shade structures, full-service showers, a party pavilion and concessions.

It was built through improvement taxes designed for a number of community-wide projects, which also includes a 90-acre sports complex. The new aquatics facility would be first on the list of improvements.

Changing Guard

Dubbed Splash Station, the facility replaced the old swimming pool in the same spot, which sits in the city's historic Hulen Park.

"The old pool was losing water and was to a point that it was in need of major renovation. The community stepped up to the plate and said they wanted something more family-friendly, interactive and enjoyable for younger age groups," says Brandi Duncan, Aquatics Manager for the City of Cleburne, Parks & Recreation Division. "We did much better than expected, particularly since we didn't have a full winter season to build on; that was mostly summer revenue. We hope that this fiscal year will be even better, and we'll actually generate some revenue to expand our operations."

The more traditional aspects of the aquatics facility -- swim and special-needs recreation programming (see the sidebar on page xx for more information about special-needs plans at the facility), swim meets, lap swimming and scuba lessons -- will run this winter as the city purchased a large heated and regulated air dome.

"If someone wants a quick fix with something that is not as costly as a permanent structure to provide indoor swimming, it's a good alternative. We can adjust the temperature inside the dome to any level we want, and we plan to keep it up through the winter, probably until April," says Duncan. "It's quite fascinating. It weighs 6,500 lbs., and we get it all taken down and packed up on an 8' x 8' skid pretty quickly. It's about 35 feet high at its center point and is held up with positive air pressure, so it has a huge air handling system. It's made out of a blend of high-strength polyester fabric coated with PVC on both sides. We've had all kinds of things thrown at it -- eggs at Halloween, baseballs, golf balls and even BBs shot at it. It can withstand high winds and a fair amount of snow and ice; it's very reliable."

Duncan adds that it's lighted with sports-field lights and has its own generator in case they lose power so that they can safely deflate it, if necessary.

The focus at the park, says Duncan, has been on customer service. Beyond ensuring that everyone has a good time, a lot of it has to do with educating the community about the park rules as it's quite easy for patrons to misconstrue or misunderstand the rules.

"We will have more customer service personnel next summer, because we need someone at the front gate to deal with bag checks. A lot of people will bring in glass jars of baby food, for instance, so we have someone at the front before they get to the ticket area, to do the bag check and go over the pool rules, the amenities and safety gear available and so on. We found that we needed explain the rules and the reasoning behind them -- particularly the safety aspects -- that we got more flak about, which they understood when we explained the rules at the entrance," says Duncan. "We also made some changes at our large slides. We placed a person at the bottom of the stairs to the slide to make sure everyone was the required height and to make sure that certain types of jewelry were not allowed. We give them an option; we provide a baggie and allow them to put their jewelry in it and hold it as they go down the slide. That helped a lot. We also used medical tape to tape over the items, like wedding rings. That seemed to appease our patrons -- it met our needs, but kept them happy as well. That was a simple fix we created that worked."

Duncan adds that they placed an emphasis on areas where smaller children congregate. For instance, as more day-care traffic came through, they would shift the stand placement rotations to deal with the larger concentration of small children.

"We've looked at studies that show that most near-drownings occur with children under the age of six in less than four feet of water. We tried to take those studies to heart and learn from parks around us. We take what we can from other parks, and develop ours to implement what we can based on what they learned from their incidents," says Duncan. "We learned to be quite dynamic in how we approach it and to be as prepared as possible beforehand."

Duncan says they noticed more incidents at the play structure on the smaller slides that flow off of it. Most of the incidents involved children running over each other, with the requisite bumps and bruises. So it was decided to place a guard at the bottom of the small slides to regulate traffic and eliminate any problems, and it's worked.

Concessions & Chemicals

Duncan reports that concessions, which is run by the department instead of outsourced, has been going gangbusters, though they had to make some concessions to do it.

Given health department requirements and the typical age of those who work concessions, it had to be relatively simple -- no deep fryers, grills, ovens or cutting equipment. So it's mostly BBQ sandwiches, nachos, hot dogs, chili pies and snow cones, supplemented by pizza from Dominoes that's delivered and kept warm. Duncan says they sold about 6,300 orders of nachos last summer. The plans are to keep it simple, but try to expand the offerings based on the limited equipment they can use.

With heavy rental traffic (Cleburne rents out the pool, water park and associated space for private parties), and a large influx of local and regional traffic, pool chemistry is high on the list of priorities.

Cleburne went with an electronic chemical control system, and Duncan says the results have been outstanding, though they're careful to do regular testing anyway.

"It works very well to ensure that your required chemical levels are there, to ensure exact turnover rates and maximize the efficiency of your chemicals. We have our regular maintenance tech, but throughout the day we do at-the-pool tests with test strips to check the three components at the same time -- free Chlorine, pH and total alkalinity. It's a recirculation system, and the turnover rate is less than four hours," says Duncan.

With a pavilion that houses about 20 tables with chairs, seven large shade umbrellas and the two giant pecan trees, Cleburne has provided plenty of passive space for everyone. They also planted several cypress and live oak trees to help ensure future shade coverage.

"We have a lot of grandparents who bring their grandkids during the week to swim, so we like to have some place comfortable for them," says Duncan. "We really focused on the patrons and making them comfortable and safe, particularly keeping in mind that this is all for the community -- 60 percent of our patrons were Cleburne residents last season. It paid off, because word got around to surrounding communities. We did some advertising, and will do more this coming season."