It's A Numbers Game

Photo Courtesy Of Charles Davis Smith Photography

In a world where the goal is achieving close to 100-percent cost recovery, aquatic operators not only have to balance chemicals on a daily basis, but also finances. Using real-world data from both indoor and outdoor municipal pools and waterparks, three areas stand out for aquatic operations:

• Industry trends

• Basic budgeting

• Facility maintenance planning.

Industry Trends

With the evolution of the family aquatic center throughout municipal parks and recreation departments, it’s much more prevalent to find “waterpark-type attractions” (wave pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, etc.) closer to home than they were 20 years ago. This trend in the municipal environment toward thrill rides allows for more financially sustainable opportunities, but also provides more competition in the marketplace for those critical “make or break” 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year.

Since today’s aquatic centers incorporate recreation swimming and wellness pools to augment revenue of competitive swimming, thereby creating multigenerational facilities through shared expenses, trends continue to point to adventurous attractions. But don’t forget to incorporate passive play spaces for those who want a calmer, relaxing environment, such as current channels, children’s areas, and whirlpool spas. By providing multigenerational spaces so that families can experience the park together, you will capture a greater audience since you have “something for everyone,” which will increase attendance and revenue, the two primary drivers of a sustainable operation.

Carefully developing a selection of which water spaces to incorporate into your facility will have a lasting effect on the guest experience, as well as the sustainability of the operation. This is typically accomplished in a feasibility study prior to building a new aquatic center, or the expansion of an existing one, often using a survey as its foundation.

Basic Budgeting

While catering to the demographics of the community to help make a facility a success, you also need a budget plan to ensure that the amenities you provide will allow for a financially sustainable operation.

After analyzing basic budgets across the country, we have found that aquatic operations typically include five primary areas of expenses:

• Personnel/labor

• Chemicals

• Utilities

• Maintenance

• Operational supplies.

The public’s expectations are evident from the moment they enter the facility. Professional presentation must constantly be reviewed by management in its policies. The aquatic director’s job is to train all staff members and implement all operational procedures and budgets.

Photo Courtesy Of Chris Roberts

On average, aquatic personnel costs make up at least 50 percent of any operational budget, and sometimes can get close to 75 to 80 percent depending on the size of the facility, the number of operating hours, and staffing levels required for a safe environment. Managing labor strategically and effectively is the primary factor in lowering the financial numbers of any aquatic operation. For example, if your facility operates 16 hours a day during the week, and another 12 hours each on Saturday and Sunday, scheduling one extra (and possibly unnecessary) lifeguard at $8 an hour can add up fast--$43,264 over the course of one year, to be exact!

Labor costs, chemicals, utilities, and maintenance all typically fall into the 8- to 12-percent range, while operational supplies will make up the other 3 to 5 percent. These numbers may vary from year to year depending on the scope of maintenance projects, as well as on any emergency repairs. For example, an outdoor wave pool that has a $9,000 air-compressor malfunction, or an indoor pool that needs major plaster repairs, will obviously create a huge increase in maintenance expenses compared to those in a year when all the equipment functions properly.

Facility Maintenance Planning

Aquatic facility maintenance is one of the top challenges faced by facility operators. When designing a new facility or adding amenities, your aquatic designer will explain the benefits and weaknesses of new products, as well as the need to comply with industrial codes and regulations. But because of the sheer number of sophisticated parts associated with keeping a facility running, (especially with all of the new technologies over the past several years), operators should develop an ongoing facility maintenance and replacement plan.

The pool operations team is responsible for the overall maintenance of the pool system and the features for risk reduction to users, employees, and the facility. Pump-room technicians employ a unique skill set, including Certified Pool Operator (CPO) or Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO), for day-to-day chemical knowledge in order to operate the facility in compliance with local health department requirements.

The maintenance plan should take into account the lifespan of various pieces of equipment. While the pool structure may be in place for over 50 years, the mechanical systems have a much shorter lifespan. By developing a list of each piece of on-site equipment, notating its installation date, the expected lifespan, and the repair/replacement cost, you can determine the yearly budget accordingly, which will lessen unexpected hits. As a general rule, a facility should save 0.5 percent of the construction cost each year for future repairs/replacements. Saving a small amount each year will ensure money is in place when the large-item repair bill comes due. Planning ahead, preventative maintenance, and constant communication with the organization’s financial director will significantly benefit your operations in the long run.

Take Time To Plan

Aquatic facilities operate with complex equipment, amenities, and support spaces that require intensive planning and extreme quality-control measures. Balancing numbers in these facilities includes basic budgeting and an equipment maintenance plan, as well as staying ahead of the curve when identifying the latest trends in aquatics for a new facility or expanding an existing one. Aquatic operators who spend time analyzing and planning in these three areas will set the tone for their organization’s future success and financial sustainability.

Kevin Post, Principal and Studio Director at Counsilman-Hunsaker, specializes in providing facility evaluations, aquatic-facility business plans, city-wide aquatic master plans, and Certified Pool Operator instruction and certification. As a former competitive swimmer and Aquatics Director, he draws on this aquatic experience, allowing him to address the needs of various client types. Reach him at or (314) 416-2080.

George Deines is a Project Manager for Counsilman-Hunsaker, specializing in aquatic master planning, business planning, feasibility studies and operational training and development. Before joining the CH team in 2014, he worked as the Aquatics/Sports Manager for the City of Garland, Texas, overseeing the operation of Surf and Swim, the city’s 4-acre waterpark, and three community pools. He is Vice-Chair of the World Waterpark Association’s Safety Committee and president of the North Texas Aquatics Association.