Double-Duty Pools

By Melinda Kempfer

A recreational professional at a pool can prevent a drowning by teaching a young child to swim, provide the gift of mobility to a grandmother, introduce a toddler to water, build the self-esteem of a teenager on the swim team, and motivate a 12-year-old child to simply play.


So what if that professional—well-educated in the benefits of swimming—is challenged by operating only one pool that provides all of the above benefits?

Ideally, a multi-generational aquatic center would include multiple pools with multiple temperatures in separate environments; indoor and outdoor.

Alas, in this example, our seasoned professional does not have the luxury of multiple pools, but that does not obscure the importance of his or her role in the initial programming. Early involvement in the design programming will arm the resourceful recreation professional with the necessary input for a successful outcome.

First, consider the three specific challenges that one body of water presents:

• Size of the pool
• Water temperature
• Water depth.

A competition pool designed to accommodate swim teams and meet the requirements of sanctioning bodies defies all of the “design rules” for leisure or wellness pools. These “rules” include shallower, warmer water, with entertainment features like water slides and spraying water, wellness lap lanes, lazy rivers, and vortex channels that can offer both passive and active areas.

A competition pool is oftentimes larger in size than a recreation pool, and the percentage of population use is smaller than with a leisure pool. If the competition pool is to also host swim meets, the size of the natatorium must also be increased for spectator seating.

Aquatic programming must respond to the size of the pool to realize a return on its investment. Movable bulkheads should be considered to help make the pool function at its best capacity, and make it multi-faceted to allow competing programs to occur simultaneously. Maximum utilization of the pool is the ultimate goal.

Ideally, different programs require varied water temperatures. A cooler temperature is preferred for competitive lap swimming or aquatic aerobic exercise. A warmer temperature is more appealing in instances where a patron is using the pool for therapeutic or recreation programming. The pool program should determine what pool temperatures are required. In the instance of one body of water, concessions will have to be made to accommodate these different programs.

A competition pool can have many uses.

A movable floor is an option to overcome the water-depth challenge. Different activities require different levels of water depth, and this solution can help provide the appropriate depths for competition swimming during one hour and small child swimming instruction in the next.

Historically, competition-pool facilities achieve approximately 50- to 60-percent cost recovery per year. A seasoned recreation professional needs to find a way to increase that cost recovery. This begins during the initial programming of the new pool.

Program For Success
Programming should always precede design and should be a collaborative process. Pool managers should be as intimately involved as possible. The more stakeholders involved from the community, the better sharing of information, accountability, and ownership the project will gain. Otherwise, the pool might not meet the goals and expectations of the operator.

When leading a design charette, Doug Whiteaker, President of Water Technology Inc., likes to apply a “lens theory” so that the team looks at the project through different lenses. First, begin looking at the design through a competitive-swimming lens, and then change lenses and look at the pool through a programmatic lens, and a myriad of options will appear. Lastly, look at the pool through a recreation—or “water-tainment”—lens and ask how to bring recreation fun into this pool.

Start With Spreadsheets
Programming should start at the spreadsheet level. Document all of the swimming functions, including competitive swimming and training, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, etc. to gain an understanding of the number, length, and depth of lanes that you will need. Each sport has a set of critical requirements, and an estimated number of users will help determine the number of lanes and depth of water.

• How many swimmers will be using the pool at any one time?
• At what percentages of operational hours will each of these groups occupy the pool?
• How many swimmers are on the competition teams?
• How many lanes will be required?
• What are the length and width of lanes required?
• Will the pool be available for general recreation or fitness use when the competitive team has training scheduled?
• What provisions will be made for warm-up lanes?

Using a programmatic lens, discuss what other programs—learn-to-swim, water aerobics, snorkeling, etc. (see sidebar)—you would like to offer. Poll the residents to discover what programs they may participate in as well as what they perceive to be the immediate and future needs of the community.

There are many ways to adjust a competition pool for recreational uses.

Be creative and open to suggestions from both a collective programming team and peers operating similar pools. These discussions will reveal successful and not-so-successful program offerings.

Lastly, look at the pool through the recreation lens. Could the addition of removable, floatable play-features be a way to add recreation value when meets are not being held? Explore the new innovations in movable aqua-climbing walls, and determine how they fit into the recreation program. Is the addition of a water dropslide a viable option?

Overlay the sports swimming, programmatic, and recreation spreadsheets to help visualize how they all work together. This will help to determine the number of lanes needed and what depths are necessary.

The last challenge is marketing the new facility. Competition pools do not have the instant “just add water-tainment” attraction like their counterparts. Make sure to communicate to community residents the benefits of swimming and the programs you have successfully compiled. Saturate each marketplace, reaching out to the multi-generations of swimmers that will ultimately keep the new pool afloat.

Participation in the initial programming of the pool is essential to a pool operator’s success. When presented with a challenge, recreation professionals know their actions will ultimately impact budgets and bottom lines, and most importantly, the residents. Embrace the idea that there is a pool to program, and dive into the programming phase of the project with recreation resourcefulness!

Appropriate and inclusive aquatic-program development of the new community asset will not only be a source of drowning prevention and learn-to-swim-faster sports programs, but also the catalyst for teaching the “youth” of all ages and abilities in the community the lifelong benefits of aquatic wellness.

Melinda Kempfer is the business-development coordinator at Water Technology, Inc., in Beaver Dam, Wis. Reach her at (920) 887-7375, or


To The Drawing Board
Looking for alternate recreation programming to host in competition pools? Try these out:

• Learn-to-swim lessons
• Aqua-aerobics and fitness programs (deep water and shallow water)
• Water-rescue and safety classes
• Snorkeling/scuba classes
• Dive-in movies
• Frisbee golf
• Kayak classes and training
• Stand-up paddle boarding
• Underwater hockey
• Innertube polo

Note the recreational equipment that works well in competition pools:

• Basketball
• Volleyball
• Climbing walls
• Rope swings
• Inflatable water-play structure
• Slides (drop)
• Portable underwater fitness equipment