As the popularity of swimming pools has far exceeded 50 years, older facilities have seen an increasing level of renovation to keep up with consumer expectations.
It happens at all levels, as public pools update facilities and expand opportunities, colleges offer increasingly flashier facilities to attract recruits, waterparks add entertainment options, and private pools tailor themselves for a swimming industry that's getting faster and more competitive.
"A pool, especially an outdoor pool, rarely lasts longer than about 40 years," says Steve Crocker, director of sport swimming at Water Technology Inc., an aquatic planning, designing and engineering company based in Beaver Dam, Wis. "At that point, out in the environment, freezing and thawing, they become shot in many ways. Most pools that age are kind of functionally obsolete."
That's where WTI and companies like it come in, working with pool operators to determine how to best adapt the existing pool for the team, school or community.
"Before we renovate a pool like that and put hundreds of thousands of dollars into it, it's important to know everything you can," Crocker says, noting that a well-done renovation can have the same result as a complete rebuild. "In essence, they have a brand new pool in every way."
The process begins with the designers viewing every aspect of the facility. The pool wall, lining and gutters are studied, along with the mechanical room and any other aspect that will impact the renovation process. If enough work is done ahead of time, renovating a typical high school pool takes about half a year, and the facility can be ready for the next competitive season.
However, that evaluation process has been somewhat difficult during a pandemic that has shut down facilities at times.
"I think the conflicting piece is that, though it's harder to get in to do some of those evaluations right now, we are also seeing the general attitude of needing to preserve what you have when there's something that's salvageable," WTI business development leader Jen Gerber says. "The big question is, is it salvageable? And what is the usable life left with that pool and in that mechanical equipment? That's really the purpose of doing an evaluation, a facility audit or an assessment — to understand what is left and what can still be salvaged. In general, when there's any sort of economic downturn, people want to preserve where they can."
There's almost always a way to get that done, and save operators from completely demolishing and rebuilding their pool. Many projects involve a combination, as some aspects of the old pool are refurbished for modern use while new parts are built to offer more functionality.
That was the case at the Arlington Ridge Center in Arlington Heights, Ill. The former Olympic Indoor Swim Center was renovated and expanded for $17 million, a Counsilman-Hunsaker project that was completed in January and features a new 100,000-square-foot recreation center. The aquatic center includes a 13,100-square-foot competition pool, as well as a 2,350-square-foot wellness/instructional pool.
Because the Arlington Ridge project was a combination of a renovation and a new addition, there were two very different scopes for each pool. The renovation itself incurred many challenges, such as attaching the new addition to the existing building, renovating the mechanical room located in the basement, and coordinating with existing utilities that were going to remain in place.
Many modern renovation projects focus on drawing in more of the community — not just swimmers.
"From a parks and recreation perspective, if we're talking about any sort of renovation for public parks and rec pools — indoor or outdoor — one of the most common things that is brought to our attention is a need to engage a broader variety of age groups — specifically the 20s and teens age groups," Gerber says.
That was the City of Walla Walla's task when it set out to reinvigorate Veterans Memorial Pool. The public pool, which was built in the Washington city in the 1960s, closed in 2006 for repairs and didn't reopen until 2017. A previous attempt to build a new pool was shot down before the community agreed to a rebuild and a $5.8 million bond passed in 2015.
"A lot of swimming in the United States is done at a 25-yard distance, and that pool did not have a bulkhead and was only 60 feet wide, so they had no ability to swim 25 yards," Crocker says. "So it was pretty obsolete, and they were really, really struggling with how to bring in revenue. The city kind of understood that if they could snap their fingers and make that pool brand new, it would still struggle financially because there's really nothing that could take place there.
"The neat thing about that project is that it sat empty for 10 years, and when that is the case, it's really tough to put $2 million or $3 million into a facility without some assurance that that concrete shell is good. So, we did core samples. They came in and drilled 6-inch diameter cores out of that pool in multiple locations — the floors and the walls. So we got that analyzed and determined that the pool's shell is solid."
The ability to salvage a portion of the existing shell resulted in a unique renovation. A new zero-entry play pool space that better serves a multigenerational clientele was added, and WTI helped widen half the pool from 60 to 75 feet in order to give it the ability to host 25-yard events.
"The portion of the pool that was existing, we chopped off the top of the wall, we put in a new Myrtha gutter, and we lined that pool in a Myrtha stainless steel system," Crocker says. "The portion of the pool where we got it wider, that's a Myrtha prefabricated wall system. So on the old part of the pool, we used the existing structure to support the Myrtha system. And then on the new part of the pool, we had to go with a brand new Myrtha. We did a lot of things. We deepened the pool in some places, we expanded it in others. So it was really a challenge with two systems, but it worked out flawlessly."
The current Veterans Memorial Pool has a renovated 10,964-square-foot competition pool with added diving boards and recreational opportunities, as well as a new 3,031-square-foot leisure pool that includes a play structure and 10 geysers.
"One of the big challenges is to take a new 50-meter pool and make it fun, make it relevant for kids today," Crocker says of the importance of creating multiple spaces within a facility. "We sometimes will do a lot of different things, whether it's break that pool up into different areas, create a lazy river, create an area for social seating and basketball and volleyball."
Even high-level competition facilities are looking to offer more recreational options. While Veterans Memorial Pool typically serves recreation or local competition, the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Aquatic Complex has similar goals in mind with its current renovation. The municipal pool has hosted hundreds of national and international events and seen 10 world records broken in its waters since it opened in 1965.
In order to ensure it could continue holding premier competitive events while also serving the community's changing needs, the City of Fort Lauderdale chose to redesign the facility. The project, which is not to exceed $27 million, is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2021.
The old 50-meter main competition pool is being removed in favor of a 53-by-25-meter 10-lane pool with two 82-by-6-foot bulkheads that will offer much more flexibility. The diving pool is also being replaced with a 6,700-square-foot diving pool and tower with nine 25-meter lap lanes, while the 50-meter training pool will be resurfaced and reguttered, and all pools will get new filtration systems, pumps and chlorination systems.
Colleges have leaned more into the idea of creating a social recreational space, rather than just a space for the swimming and diving teams. At some schools across the country, such as the University of Alabama, the pool is used to attract swimmers and recreational users to campus. A recent $21 million expansion of the Alabama Aquatics Center upgraded the architectural aspects of the 50-meter indoor pool while also building a new 50-meter outdoor pool.
"We looked at a lot of different things, but eventually settled upon basically partially tearing down the building that housed the old six-lane, 25-yard pool, and in its place and beyond its place, we put a new 25-by-25 pool," Crocker says. "With Alabama, one of the attractions of that outdoor pool was recruiting. When Alabama's competing against the University of Florida, Stanford, Cal Berkeley and all these places, and the coach is talking to prospective athletes, they can talk about their training and say, 'Yeah, we swim outside all the time. It's great.' "
Getting students excited to go to the pool also requires making it look good. That's where the details come in. Ramuc Pool Paint manufacturers pool and deck coatings along with cleaning products that ensure the renovation holds up over time.
While many pool renovations add operational functionality, mechanical aspects like filtration systems and piping are also included in most renovation projects. Years of wear and tear leave marks that become apparent no matter how well the pool is maintained.
"It's like a brand new pool, every piece of pipe, every water treatment component is all brand new," Crocker says of the result of the Veterans Memorial project. "Many times, we know the piping is shot. The piping running the deck, typically, and under the floor — anything before the 1970s — it's all cast-iron piping. It's almost always in very poor shape and it would be a mistake to use it.
"We almost always modernize the water treatment systems, and that makes life easier for them, but it also makes the facility greener."
Regulations also change over time, including in the diving well, where current water depth must be 12.5 feet deep for three-meter and five-meter platforms. The regulations were updated about 40 years ago, leaving many wells too shallow for diving. Renovators can go into the pool and change the depth by cutting out a portion of the floor or reconfiguring the gutters to be more flush with the surface of the water.
"Instead of cutting the pool deck everywhere and installing piping all around the perimeter, many times we'll install a new gutter system," Crocker says. "We'll chop off the old gutter around the perimeter of the pool, which is always in bad shape, and we'll install a new, stainless steel gutter system. That gutter system can do multiple things. It does the typical job of a gutter — taking water from the surface — but it also returns the filtered and chemically treated water back to the pool."
There are several options to choose from when it comes to gutters, surfacing and the pool membrane. Companies like RenoSys and Natare manufacture gutters for indoor and outdoor pools, as well as PVC pool membranes that line the pool to prevent water loss.
While many of the mechanical aspects of renovation are not visible to the public, the idea of a renovation can be easier to swallow for a community that typically has fond memories of the old pool.
"When you called it a rebuild, the residents were much more excited," Crocker says of what happened when the Walla Walla project transitioned from a new pool to a renovation. "'We used this pool when we were young, it was great for us, we know it can be great again, let's not throw it away, let's rebuild.' Just that renaming by itself turned out to be a really influential aspect of finally getting it done. And the fact that it cost half as much."
This article originally appeared in the November|December 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Modern pool renovation offers more recreational opportunities." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.