Creative Aquatic Center Design

State parks have a larger economic impact than most people realize. Parks help increase tourism, motivate businesses for relocation and expansion, invest in environmental protection, and improve physical and mental health. So, what is one thing a state can do to help increase the number of visitors to its parks? Build an outdoor aquatic center.


Prophetstown State Park in West Lafayette, Ind., is a 2,000+ acre park. As the newest state park, it was still being developed but had an overall goal of returning the landscape to the pre-settlement conditions of the early 1800s with a “prairie” theme. The site—located at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers—includes extensive oak savannah and prairie restoration, a historic farmstead, Native American exhibits, camping, trails, and access to the Tippecanoe River and wetland features.

As it continues to expand facilities to enhance the user experience, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) decided to build a new outdoor aquatic center with a total budget of $6 million. But the problem was that the site was located beyond local sanitary utilities.

Taking The Lead
Schmidt Associates, an architectural and engineering firm in Indianapolis, led the design team in overall site analysis, placement of the facility, and determination of the site entry sequence. The firm worked closely with Water Technology, a waterpark design and engineering firm, to arrange the pool tanks for traffic flow, aesthetic effect, and solar orientation.

Elevation differentials for the bathhouse, pool, pool mechanical, and parking were carefully chosen to blend with existing topography, create drama, screen views beyond the pool, and facilitate the pool’s mechanical functions. The effect of isolated pools within a lush planting of native grasses and wildflowers breaks down the overall scale of the facility to the user.

Identification of desirable existing trees for preservation and removal of exotic species trees were done collaboratively between the IDNR and Schmidt Associates. This evaluation followed the master plan’s goal of returning the landscape to pre-settlement conditions. Schmidt Associates shaped the bathhouse around an existing oak tree to create a lobby that overlooks the pool complex from an intentionally elevated perspective. Additionally, the pool mechanical building uses topography to its advantage to minimize the two-story volume while draining into the surge tanks by gravity.

Schmidt Associates spearheaded the process of identifying the location of septic fields and water discharge, and worked with the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management to secure the appropriate permits. The bather load of the pool was a critical factor in planning for the sanitary system. State requirements for water use per bather were blended with the pool treatment-system usage to determine the size of holding tanks and leach fields.  Water-use requirements for cleaning the pool filters surfaced as a key sizing determination. The land available in the state park, treeless grassland aesthetic, and soil types allowed for a traditional leach field to be pursued. Once the parameters were set, the design team worked closely with Cardno/J.F. New for the technical design of the septic tank and dosing system.

Filtration System
“Filtration systems remove particulates from the pool water while chlorine kills the things that are alive in the water. It’s like needing a filter for coffee to keep coffee grounds out of your coffee. You need to keep the water clean,” says Matt Freeby, Project Leader for Water Technology. “The Prophetstown Aquatic Center uses a Regenerative Media Filter (RMF) because it uses 90 percent less water. In a site beyond existing utilities, this was extremely important.”

Freeby states, “General practice uses High Rate Sand Filtration, which passes the water through a bed of sand to remove the particulates. These systems waste about 90 percent more water because of the frequency of backwashing to keep it clean. With a RMF system, the water runs through flex tubes coated with Perlite, essentially crushed volcanic rock. This traps the particulates, and through a “bump” cycle, reorients the media to greatly extend filter runs between backwashes, resulting in less backwash discharge. In a site without utilities, where there isn’t anywhere to send the volume of discharge that would be generated by a High Rate Sand Filter, the RMF made the most sense.”

Small basins with native plants are used to release the backwash from the media filter, stormwater, and end-of-season pool water. Septic fields treat the waste water generated by the bathhouse.

Pool Features
The Prophetstown Aquatic Center was built to accommodate an approximate bather load of 700. However, it was designed with future expansion in mind for 1,200. It features:

  • A zero-depth leisure pool
  • Water spray features
  • A large, interactive water-dumping feature
  • Open water play
  • Body and tube slides
  • A lazy river with adventure channel
  • Lawn areas for sunbathing
  • Lawn volleyball
  • A deck area
  • Wireless access for guests
  • A bathhouse building
  • Concessions.

Other features include a pool mechanical building, new access road, bike paths connected to the park trail network, parking lot, perimeter fencing, and landscaping that carries through the “prairie” theme of the park.

 “Subdued colors, utilization of natural materials, and thoughtful placement within the existing topography were points of emphasis,” says Landscape Architect Craig Flandermeyer of Schmidt Associates. “Views to and from the aquatic complex were planned to minimize views of parked cars and the impact on the park’s aesthetic.”

Schmidt Associates is an Indianapolis-based architecture and engineering firm. The associates help educational, lifestyle, workplace, and community clients to optimize their facilities and systems through analysis and strategic implementation. Acting out of a culture of Servant Leadership, they put the needs of their clients first. They are known for providing Better Foresight, Better Insight, and for being Better On-Site throughout projects. They strive to make each project unique and reflective of the culture and values of the client, creating plans and spaces for improved efficiency. For more information, visit