Most recreational aquatic facilities built in recent years take their cue from waterparks, designing facilities complete with waterslides, lazy rivers, wave pools and a list of other attractions designed to, well, attract more users and more revenue. Older facilities with few or none of these frills face tough choices to stay competitive in such a market. Short of investing tens of millions into a new facility, smarter, smaller investments can pump new interest into an otherwise disadvantaged pool.

"The challenge is how do you make a reasonable investment but not have to rework the whole filtration system or things like that," says Kyle McCawley, a project manager with Kansas City, Mo.-based Larkin Aquatics. "Inflatable components or climbing walls will give you drastic change for minimal investment — you don't have to add an extra pump or modify the electrical system."

For those looking to go a little further, components such as a splash pad involve more financial investment and a little more site work but can come with a greater payoff. "We're seeing communities that want to add it adjacent to the pool so that it can be accessible during pool season, but then they can also use it before and after the regular pool season."

Then, there are "high end" additions, as McCawley puts it — things such as water slides, obstacle courses or wave pools. Though such elements require a significant investment, they often have the potential to pay for themselves. "Especially for Flow Riders, if a facility is going to have it, it generally sets a different price point — you have to pay to use it in addition to general admission."

Beyond the cost to install and revenue potential, there are myriad other factors to consider when adding new aquatic features, such as the life cycle of the amenity and the amount of maintenance and additional staffing it will require. With many communities struggling to come up with enough lifeguards to staff their existing pools, some amenities might be too much to bear. "A waterslide needs someone at the top and bottom — two more staff," says McCawley. "A climbing wall needs a staff member just to watch that."

So what type of investment is right for your facility? Here's a quick breakdown to give you an idea of how to focus your search.

RELATED: Moving Toward a Self-Sustainable Aquatics Funding Model

(Lower cost/lower impact on existing pool structure)

Inflatable Climbing Structures
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: No special installation required; designed for standard pool use; minimum water depth is dependent on height of the product
INSTALLATION: Fast and easy pool conversion; products need to be inflated and anchored
MAINTENANCE: Low; products should be checked periodically to ensure proper inflation and inspected for wear regularly
TARGET AUDIENCE: Preteens to adults
BOTTOM LINE: Inflatables are a good solution for facilities looking to add an element of fun without greatly impacting other programming opportunities.


Aquatic Climbing Walls
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Walls have no impact on the pool's existing chemical or circulation system, but do require deck space to anchor and appropriate depth in drop zone
INSTALLATION: Fast; walls can be set up by aquatics staff in less than a day
MAINTENANCE: Minimal; regular maintenance includes checking anchors and hardware; walls can be stored when not in use
An extra lifeguard is required to supervise the wall
BOTTOM LINE: Climbing walls can draw new patrons and offer potential revenue opportunities with minimal input.

RELATED: Aquatic Climbing Walls Becoming a Popular Pool Amenity

(More expensive/more impact on pool structure)

Splash Pads
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Flow-through systems require waterline setup and drainage; recirculation systems require holding tanks, filters, treatment and disinfection systems; requires a few hundred to a few thousand square feet of space
INSTALLATION: Somewhat lengthy; depending on the site, time can range from three months to more than nine months
MAINTENANCE: Some; for recirculating systems, filters, chemical feeders, pumps need to be checked regularly
STAFF IMPACT: Minimal; depending on the setup, does not typically require extra staff supervision
TARGET AUDIENCE: Toddlers to teens
BOTTOM LINE: Splash pads require a bit more investment of capital, time and space but can attract a wider range of patrons and extend an aquatic facility's operating season.


Zip Line
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Two anchor points for the line, as well as a clear drop zone for users; does not affect existing pool systems
INSTALLATION: Medium; most of the work involves installation of anchor points
MAINTENANCE: Some; components should be inspected regularly
STAFF IMPACT: Minimal; needs to be supervised to ensure proper user behavior
BOTTOM LINE: For facilities with the appropriate space, a zip line can be an easy addition to draw user interest.

RELATED: Key Considerations When Building a Splash Pad

(Costly/require significant space)

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Drop-slides can be fit into a footprint as small as 12 by 6 feet; runoff space necessary for other styles; taps into pool's existing pump and filtration systems, more technically advanced slides may require electrical support
INSTALLATION: Involved; design and installation may take a few months and have a significant impact on the pool area
MAINTENANCE: Some; all hardware and components must be checked regularly; depending on slide type, electrical and pump systems may require additional upkeep
Most waterslides require a staff member at the top and bottom of the slide
TARGET AUDIENCE: Preteens to adults
BOTTOM LINE: A waterslide serves as a visual draw and can draw a variety of demographics.


Obstacle Courses
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Some elements will need to tap into the existing pump system, and models require a couple thousand square feet of pool space
INSTALLATION: Involved; requires a few thousand square feet of pool space at a minimum but can be configured around existing pool components
MAINTENANCE: Some; all hardware and components must be checked regularly
At least one staff person required to assist users with the harness system, possibly more, depending on the system
TARGET AUDIENCE: Teens to young adults
BOTTOM LINE: An obstacle course requires a large space commitment but offers a more interactive and challenging experience for users.


Wave Generators
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Minimum 400 square feet of space is generally recommended, and systems require a circulation system, an extensive pump system and electrical input
INSTALLATION: Mid-length; expect installation to take approximately six months
MAINTENANCE: High; similar to a more traditional pool, components like pumps, filters, grates and structural elements need to be inspected regularly, as well as the water chemistry, power supply, safety barriers
Requires at least one staff member to supervise operations
TARGET AUDIENCE: Teens to young adults, as well as spectators
BOTTOM LINE: Few aquatic facilities want to commit to the cost and upkeep of these devices, so if you have one, it will definitely draw a crowd. It can also serve as its own revenue-generator.

In 2015 Athletic Business® introduced the inaugural Aquatic Design Portfolio. From splash pads to competitive swimming venues, these projects highlight the latest aquatic trends and design concepts. We hope they serve as inspiration to professionals across the athletic, fitness and recreation industries and their own aquatics projects. For more information, click here.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Making Waves"