Joining Forces

According to statistics from, residents of Yuma, Ariz., enjoy the sunniest year-round location in the United States, with an annual average of 4,133 hours of sunshine. The town is located along the eastern banks of the Colorado River in the SonoranDesert. With extremely low humidity, the average high temperature during summer tops the 100-degree mark. The heat and intense sunshine do not hinder the city’s residents from venturing outdoors, though. The small town boasts an impressive parks and recreation department, with popular outdoor amenities topping the list. Over 30 public parks, several pools and water features, athletic complexes, skateparks and walking trails serve the county’s nearly 200,000 residents.

Defining Needs

Yuma Union High School District 70 (YUHSD) educates over 10,000 students, who hail from four elementary partner districts, spanning an area of 2,455 square miles. The district includes five comprehensive high schools and one alternative school. Several years ago, administrators from YUHSD began to discuss options for athletic facilities. Their swimming and diving athletes, in particular, were competing and practicing in undersized--and in some cases, substandard--pools. It was clear that the district needed to investigate a new regulation-sized swimming and diving center, but all involved knew that funding for this type of facility would be difficult or even impossible to secure.

The city’s parks department, too, had long considered the need for a new pool facility or water park. The western portion of the city was under-served in the aquatic department, and residents in this part of town had long voiced their opinion that they deserved a pool of their own.

It was the marriage of two entities--the city and school district--which resulted in something special: the Valley AquaticCenter, which celebrated its grand opening on July 2.

Mutual Benefits

In August 2008, following many discussions about an equal partnership in which the city and school district would manage and maintain the new facility, an agreement was reached. It provides that the city operate the pool complex from May 1 until Labor Day (unless the district has a swim meet or practice scheduled), while YUHSD will operate it from August 1 through November 30. During the overlap period, the district has priority during school hours, and the city takes over after school is dismissed.

In terms of financing, the agreement also provides that YUHSD cover slightly more than half the costs of construction, while the city covers the difference. The district pays 33.3 percent of the operating costs of the pool, including money for staff, electricity and pool chemicals. The agreement is in place for 25 years, with an automatic renewal of five successive five-year terms.

Because of the success of this unique partnership, the city’s parks and recreation department made a presentation, “Pool Project Partnerships That Work,” at the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association conference on August 26, in hopes that other cities might follow its example.

Becky Chavez, director of the department, believes that the project’s success can be attributed to all parties focusing on community needs. “Yuma Parks and Recreation has been partnering with local public and private schools for more than 20 years,” she says. “I‘ve come to realize that the positive working relationships we have forged … are unique, and not the case in many other cities. The key to our continued success is that everyone involved in these efforts puts the community’s needs first above each individual organization’s desires. Once the community becomes the focus, the rest falls into place, and the partnership does more than work well--it thrives!”

Bells And Whistles

Located northwest of the CibolaHigh School campus, the new 7-acre aquatic center features a 13-lane competition swimming pool complete with a regulation 3-meter and two 1-meter diving platforms. The 3-meter diving board is a first for Yuma--no existing facilities could adequately support a platform of this height. The pool and diving platform portion of the center will primarily serve athletes from the high schools, and will house all district competitive swimming events. Plenty of shaded spectator seating areas and bleachers, as well as changing areas and a bathhouse, are vast improvements from the older facilities. In addition to hosting diving competitions, the pool is deep enough to accommodate water polo, synchronized swimming or even scuba classes. When school is not in session, the pool is available during “open swim” time, and is used extensively for community-based swim and aerobic classes.

The community--particularly its youngest members--also enjoys the center’s splash pad, curvy slide, aqua playground built into the pool and playful dumping buckets (elevated containers that shower swimmers) and geysers. A leisure pool with a zero-depth or “beach-like” entry is a popular spot for children and non-swimmers, providing a gradual decline rather than steps or a ladder-style entry. This type of shallow sloping ramp is also ADA-accessible.

Plentiful picnic spaces and snack areas are shaded by colorful canopies. A full-service concession stand serves poolside snacks, and a shaded grassy area provides relief from direct sun. Thirty YUHSD students designed the colorful mosaic tiles that surround the pools’ edges, and a welcoming wave pattern of additional tiles lines the entry to the water park.

A multi-purpose classroom provides space for lifeguard CPR training and for pre-swim and other physical-education classes. The space is available to community members and organizations for rent, offering an ideal location for birthday parties, meetings and other events.

Joint Effort

Construction on the $8.8-million project was completed in only 18 months. Similar to the community partnership, designers represented a union of sorts, with the recreation and educational design firm of TMP Architecture of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., partnering with a local Tucson-based firm, Breckenridge Group Inc. The firms had established a collaborative relationship while working on prior successful Arizona projects, including the new University of Arizona Intercollegiate Athletic Facilities, as well as projects for other local school districts.

John Castellana with TMP Architecture, project director for the new center, attended the grand opening ceremony, and was overwhelmed by the public turnout and positive comments. “It was so gratifying to see the finished product, to see the results of the hard work that everybody involved went through to make it happen,” Castellana says. “It was great to see the smiles on local kids’ faces as they discovered the new splash pad, or took a plunge down the water slide!”

Not surprisingly, the picturesque town is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. With a capacity for 700 people, the new Valley Aquatic Center is sure to draw people from outside the area, making Yuma a destination for southwest Arizona families and visitors.

Michelle McCulloch has been a member of TMP’s marketing team since 2005. Established in 1959, TMP Architecture is a full-service architectural/engineering firm focused in the planning and design of K-12, municipal and college/university projects. The firm has offices in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Portage, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio. Michelle can be reached at