Avoiding The Cookie Cutter

By Jessica Ralles Laguna

Clark County in Las Vegas, Nev., serves a very diverse population. The department has all of the amenities for them, from swimming pools with water park features, such as slides and play areas just minutes from the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, to rectangular lap-style swimming pools next to cow pastures. And, of course, this kind of diversity among facilities and community wants, needs, and expectations brings a distinct set of challenges.

As most aquatic professionals know, planning for summer begins in the fall. We have barely put away the equipment from summer when it is time to start inventorying for the upcoming summer. With such an exhausting and demanding schedule, it is easy to fall into the curse of the cookie cutter—programming every pool exactly the same: same old swim lessons, same old open swim, same old water aerobics, with the same equipment, same programming, same scheduling, same everything. But not all pools are created equal—literally. And just because something works at one pool doesn’t mean it is going to work at every pool.      

Clark County’s aquatic division is comprised of 17 facilities—three indoor, year-round lap pools, two year-round, indoor senior center pools, seven seasonal outdoor pools with waterpark features (i.e., shallow beach entry, water slide, and playground) and five seasonal outdoor rectangular pools. The majority of these facilities are in metropolitan Las Vegas, though one is in Laughlin, and three are in rural areas—two in the small community of Moapa and one in the even smaller community of Indian Springs near the Creech Air Force Base.

While most of these facilities offer the same core programming of swim lessons and open swim, the similarities should end there. When I first came to work for the county in 2004, every pool followed the same basic schedule. Open swim occurred at the same time on the same days at almost every pool. This made it great for answering questions from patrons because there was only one schedule to memorize, but it wasn’t so great for meeting the needs of the community.

Timing Is Everything
Through trial and error, we learned that timing was critical. People in Laughlin—where the temperature often reaches above 110 degrees—don’t want to come to the pool from noon to 4 p.m.—the time most other pools host open swim. For that community, opening in mid-afternoon into the evening has been much more successful, as people are more likely to spend time outdoors after the peak of the day. We also found that Monday evening open swims worked well for facilities in areas with large populations that belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as Monday evenings are often referred to as family nights. At those facilities, we shifted mid-day open swim into the evening so it used the same budget dollars and staffing numbers. By looking at individual communities and their make-up, we were better able to offer something they actually wanted and would use.

We then looked to apply the same thought process to the swimming-lesson program. Most of the pools offered a morning lesson. However, in areas where the majority of parents work, morning swim lessons just aren’t feasible. By switching to evening and weekend lessons in most of the urban areas, we were able to increase the number of lessons taught. We also looked into grant funding to subsidize the cost of lessons in order to offer beginner lessons for free to the public most in need. 

Similarly, the small town of Indian Springs has a population of less than 1,000, and the entire pool staff consists of three lifeguards. To offer a five-level swimming-lesson program as offered at so many other pools was useless, as we were not meeting the minimum number of participants in order to run the classes (not to mention that we lacked the necessary number of swim instructors). Therefore, we created a different program for that community, where we simply divided swim lessons into two groups—beginning and advanced. Of course, that meant creating a new set of lesson plans and acclimating instructors, but it was worth it to provide swimming lessons to that community.

Attract A New Niche
The county’s newest pool—Aquatic Springs—is an indoor, year-round lap pool. This facility was actually built by another entity and then turned over to the county, so the county had no say in building or design. Aquatic Springs is located only seven miles from Desert Breeze—the county’s premier, 50-meter lap pool. To put another lap pool in such close proximity was not ideal. The other challenge with the location is that this facility is located next door to a huge commercial waterpark. Again, it was not quite the ideal setup. So the question became, “How do we make this facility stand out? What is its niche?” Though it hasn’t opened to the public yet, we are hoping the answer lies in some new and unique equipment and programming.

One of the first items purchased for this facility was an inflatable obstacle course. With this addition, we are hoping to cater to birthday parties, as we also have a dedicated classroom/party room. None of the other facilities provide this feature. The county is also the first entity in the Las Vegas Valley to buy an inflatable, so we are hoping to draw more people as well. Another item purchased was an inflatable movie screen that actually floats on the water’s surface, and we are also looking at purchasing an aquatic climbing wall.

Different Strokes
Partnerships are a great way to draw people into a facility and fill programs. At Aquatic Springs, another neighbor is a middle school. We have worked to establish a relationship with the school’s administration and physical-education department in hopes of offering specialty programs geared to the students. County staff does this with other facilities by reaching out to local daycares and summer camps to offer swim lessons, open swim times, and other programming that may suit those age groups.

Special events can also be particularly engaging for a community. The Desert Breeze Aquatic Facility does some great events like Egg Dive, Pools & Ghouls, and Dog Daze of Summer. During the Dog Daze event, dogs are allowed to swim in the outdoor pool after the facility closes for the summer. This event not only is loved by the public, but actually demanded. It sells out every year, and people begin calling in the spring to make sure they don’t miss it.

The only thing that can really be counted on is change. So even though it is exhausting, looking at re-working programming, scheduling, special events, and operations in general is a necessary evil. Take a close look at the community you serve and do your best to keep up with its changing wants and needs. It is the best way to keep programs filled and the facility busy.

Jessica Ralles Laguna is the Recreation Program Supervisor at Aquatic Springs in Clark County, Nev. Reach her at (702) 455-1682, or jralles@clarkcountynv.gov.