Planning For Aquatic Renovation

Located along the southern edge of Oklahoma, the city of Ardmore’s only outdoor facility was a 50-yard rectangular pool without a wading pool. Years of use had caused visible deterioration in the pool and bathhouse, and previous improvements had only addressed the piping and filtration system, and not the facility’s lack of recreational amenities. As a traditional pool, the facility had little to offer beyond lap swimming and diving, and it no longer fit the demands of the patrons. The city wanted to improve the facility’s condition and enhance its limited recreation value, but could not afford a new pool. Instead, city leaders chose to evaluate the existing facility to determine its renovation potential.

Sound familiar? Growth in aquatic centers over the last decade continues to impact communities with aging pools. Attracted by thrill rides, fun features and other amenities, citizens choose to visit the newest pools, which have a negative impact on the surrounding outdated aquatic facilities.

Unfortunately, many communities are unable to compete with these state-of-the-art centers. They face typical barriers, such as funding, higher community priorities and a general reluctance to put significant money into a new facility.

For communities in this budget-conscious category, planning for a pool renovation may be a realistic option to re-energize both the facility and attendance.

The Renovation Planning Process

While all pools are not suitable or feasible for renovation, there is a planning process that can help you understand a pool’s renovation potential, and give community leaders the information they need to make an informed decision:

Step 1: Identify The Project Goals

There are different goals a community may pursue when undertaking a potential pool renovation, but typically they include:

· Extending the life of the pool

· Adding features

· Increasing attendance

· Providing programs to the community

· Reducing risk

· Revitalizing the pool

· Fixing broken or damaged systems and structures

· Preparing the stage for a new pool in a growing part of the community

· Reducing operating subsidy

· Maintaining historical value

Leaders that spend the time to correctly identify the goals of their community build a strong foundation for the remainder of a project, so include the community in the entire planning process! Schedule and advertise open houses and public forums, and invite key community members for intimate focus groups, where you can encourage comments and drum up support for the project. The earlier you include residents, the more you incorporate their meaningful suggestions, the more probable your project will succeed.

Step 2: Understand The Community

After identifying possible goals, you may want to consider the aquatic needs and preferences, as they will differ depending on a given community. For example, is there a large population of older individuals that may want to use the pool for therapy? Is there a swim team in the area that may need a home facility for practices or meets? By examining the community, you will be better equipped to determine whether a renovation will meet the needs of the population.

Step 3: Evaluate Existing Pool

Pool replacement may be the typical consultant recommendation for deteriorating structures, but it’s not the only choice. If you have an older facility and you’re not sure whether it needs to be replaced, you may want to evaluate the existing pool to determine its overall condition.

An evaluation by a qualified consultant--many times a licensed professional engineer--can include a combination of items, such as structure analysis, water-loss testing, systems review and more. At the very least, a thorough evaluation will address both the physical condition and the ability of the facility to continue serving patrons.

In Ardmore, the evaluation report outlined many concerns, such as a poor gutter design, no ADA access and unsafe diving clearances. The report also provided nine alternative improvement and recommendation options, ranging from the most basic improvements to a complete facility replacement. After reviewing the evaluation report and recommendations and verifying the pool structure was able to withstand renovations, the city chose to renovate and add features of a modern aquatic facility.

Step 4: Decide Whether The Existing Facility Can Meet Community Goals

After completing an evaluation, a clear course of action should be defined in the form of consultant recommendations to address deficiencies to meet your goals.

Step 5: Develop Options

After deciding on the improvements needed, a consultant will develop options to enhance, renovate, or replace the pool.

If your pool is relatively new, a consultant may develop alternatives to enhance the facility and increase the appeal to current and past customers. New features, such as shade, water slides, toddler slides or floatables, can be quickly added to your existing pool with low stress to the facility and renewed fun for patrons. The options also may be added in phases to allow for funding.

If a facility has specific areas of concern but is sound overall, renovation alternatives can be developed to evaluate the best and most cost-effective option. These alternatives should consider the remaining life of a renovated pool and its ability to meet the current demands of patrons.

Regardless of the alternatives presented, a replacement option must be developed for comparison purposes.

Step 6: Compare Costs

Whether the goal is to enhance, renovate, or replace a pool, the consultant also should develop cost estimates for each alternative to compare each scenario objectively.

Consultants may be quick to recommend pool replacement as the best option, as renovation takes more effort, requires more expertise, and can present more risk. However, pool replacements typically cost more than renovations, and the process for planning and constructing a brand new facility can extend over several years.

Extensive renovations may approach the cost of a new facility, but may be able to fulfill the needs of the community. Renovations also may serve a short- or long-term goal, such as extending a pool’s life until funding for a new facility is realized. A successful renovation project can give a community confidence that a larger project, even pool replacement, may be accomplished by the leadership. As such, comparing the costs along with the goals is an important step in the planning process.

Step 7: Educate The Community

Once you’ve determined a course of action, educate the residents! Put it all out there--give presentations, make brochures, offer interviews, and tell the community what they can expect. If you are trying to renovate the facility, explain the benefits, the cost-savings and the great new features the renovation will provide. If a new aquatic facility is to be built, show how the replacement will benefit the community.

Whatever the decision, share the concepts, the costs and the excitement! The more a community knows, the better it can understand and accept the future.

During Ardmore’s design phase, the city focused on limiting the construction on the pool and containing costs by incorporating new features within the original pool structure, including renovating the walls and the filtration and gutter systems. The resulting design included many new features, such as a zero-depth entry, floatables, water slides, a current channel and more. An ADA-accessible ramp was added from the admissions area to the bathhouse and pool area, and the existing filter piping was reused and expanded to accommodate the new features. As the project developed, community momentum grew. The parking area was repaved by the city, and a fountain was designed at the bathhouse entrance. The final project budget was approximately $1.5 million, including demolition, construction and design fees. The project was well-received by the community, attendance continues to be strong, and the renovated facility has been the recipient of several state and local awards.

Getting It Done

Regardless of a community’s unique situation, the momentum behind a potential pool renovation project is a key factor for success. By encouraging an open dialogue throughout the planning process and nurturing the idea of aquatic improvement and increased quality of life, you will create the necessary momentum to ensure a successful project for the community!

David Schwartz is a licensed professional engineer and a principal with Water’s Edge Aquatic Design, an aquatic engineering and design firm headquartered in the Kansas City metro area, specializing in the planning and design of indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities. Schwartz can be reached via e-mail at