The Town Pool Comes of Age

Municipalities nationwide are coming to the realization that simply providing a place for swim lessons and getting wet isn’t what today’s aquatic facilities are all about. Citizens are more savvy, connected, and busier than ever.  With endless entertainment and recreation options available elsewhere, cities and their recreation professionals have learned they must step up their game.

What may have once started out as a typical rectangular lap pool with a diving board and “kiddie” pool has morphed into truly engaging and exciting aquatic venues.

Attend practically any city council or recreation board meeting where the subject turns to aquatics and you’ll quickly hear about the importance of learn-to-swim programs. However, you will also hear how increasingly difficult it is to support a financially draining program. What successful councils have found is that, by increasing focus on the recreation and entertainment value offered in their aquatic facility, the old-fashioned town pool can become an exciting new town destination—a place where all age groups and skill levels can have fun, burn some energy, enjoy some thrills, and learn to swim.  

Successful Evolution

With thoughtful creative planning and programming, today’s public-sector aquatic centers can easily be self-supporting and profitable entities. While making these centers or water parks affordable for community members is a must, studies have shown that patrons will pay more and attend more frequently, provided that the right mix of entertainment, recreation, and value for the dollar is available.

What began in the 1980s with communities adding simple wave pools and deck-mounted waterslides has now grown into the development of multi-purpose aquatic centers that combine the best of competitive swimming and learn-to-swim pools with truly cutting-edge features, such as iconic slides, themed play structures, and surfing simulators. These new attractions manage to bring the entertainment value to a level that rivals those of their private-sector counterparts, capturing more of the community members’ time and recreation dollars.

And industry designers and planners have stepped up to the challenge. Many projects now feature such elements as zero-depth activity pools with climbing walls and basketball areas, creatively designed wave pools with integral spray features and waterfalls, and lazy rivers with optional wave generation to create a true-action river experience.

The Attraction Of Attractions

Themed, interactive play structures with smaller units for toddlers and larger iconic structures for older kids have quickly become a staple among successful municipal aquatic centers. These “all-in-one” play structures combine the thrill of slides and dumping buckets with the fun of freestyle interactive play. This is an effective and efficient way to capture family appeal and increase capacity within a given footprint. Surfing simulators, such as the FlowRider, are also becoming more and more popular in a municipal setting. These types of attractions work extremely well in capturing the elusive teen demographic by providing a skill-based experience that keeps them coming back for more. 

In addition to deciding on the right mix of slides, rides, and pools, a well-planned aquatic center should be responsive to the comfort of its clientele. Serious attention needs to be given to providing adequate space for deck chairs, tables, and lounges, along with shaded areas, grass areas, and access paths. From the smallest of details to the new “must-have’s,” like family changing rooms and locker facilities, these elements work together to create and enhance the park experience. Having properly positioned food and beverage outlets and creative menu options can also substantially increase the revenue-generating potential of a center. 

Recent projects have pushed the recreation envelope to become true aquatic destinations: California’s Perris Valley Aquatic Center and Splash Regional Aquatic Center in La Mirada; Pirates Bay Waterpark in Baytown, Texas; The Bay Waterpark in Kansas City, Mo.; and Carmel, Indiana’s Monon Aquatic Center.

A Growing Trend

And municipal waterparks and aquatic centers aren’t just for warm-weather fun anymore. Many cities, some in concert with the local school districts, have created outstanding indoor, year-round facilities that combine elements of traditional aquatic programming with exciting recreation options. Indoor facilities with features like lap pools, training pools, therapy pools, slides, play structures, and surf simulators have recently been built in several locations, including the Snohomish Aquatic Center in Washington and H2O Adventure at the Windsor Aquatic Center in Ontario, Canada. The success of these innovative centers illustrates the public sector’s desire and increasing demand for more year-round aquatic recreation.

To be viable in today’s recreation marketplace, agencies must learn how to provide the public with an outstanding aquatic experience while designing and constructing self-sustaining facilities.  As more and more options compete for a guest’s attention and dollars, these agencies are getting smarter about putting development money into high-demand attractions with high-return investment potential. Innovative, exciting, and well-planned aquatic centers are a proven concept that appeals to guests of all ages within the community.

Dave Keim is the VP for Business Development at Aquatic Development Group, Inc. Reach him at