Twenty-nine states—Colorado is the exception—have an obesity occurrence of more than 20 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same organization estimates that 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Increased public awareness of this epidemic has prompted education institutions and communities to put a greater focus on physical fitness.
Swimming ranks among the best whole-body exercise options: it builds endurance, strengthens muscles, exercises the heart, and even offers psychological benefits. A lap pool offers not only a means of promoting year-round fitness, but also a place for social interaction—for high school swimmers, the community swim club and fitness-minded individuals. Consequently, many institutions are adding new or renovating existing pools.
Some districts and campuses are building flexible aquatic centers that help offset the high costs of traditional competitive pools. These facilities offer such features as shallow water areas, simulated surfing machines and therapy pools. An aquatic center can offer enough variety to accommodate every community member’s swimming goals, whether it’s a gold medal, improved health, a shot of adrenaline or just a good time.
The fast pool phenomenon
Many coaches and swimmers agree that the design of a pool facility affects performance; science validates that opinion.
The optimum pool design supports the complex relationship between swimmers and the water. It starts with keeping the surface as smooth as possible, especially after swimmers dive in. An 18- to 24-inch gutter absorbs water that otherwise would cause turbulence by splashing back into the pool. Higher-quality lane lines also reduce turbulence; extra lane lines placed near the edge of the pool can further aid the swimmers on the outside lanes, where waves strike hardest.
Pool depth also affects the interaction between a swimmer and the water. A "boundary layer" of water moves with the swimmer. If that layer touches the floor, its water returns to the surface, causing resistance. A deep enough pool—7 to 8 feet at a minimum—combined with a strong recirculation system, keeps that boundary layer moving with, rather than against, the swimmer. However, some pools have shallower water at the non-springboard side to offer more flexibility for inexperienced swimmers.
Another factor that affects athletic performance in pools is temperature. A temperature of 78ºF to 80.5ºF keeps water cool enough to prevent sluggishness, and warm enough to avoid muscle tightness. Eighty-five degrees is more appropriate for recreational functions.
A pool also may have advanced ventilation systems to aid breathing. Fine-tuning chemical treatments, filtration systems and lighting helps maximize swimmers’ ability to see.
Many education institutions are creating partnerships with organizations (e.g., park districts, YMCAs) to operate pool facilities more economically and efficiently.
One potential outcome of such a partnership is an aquatic center with recreational components, which attract more users. The challenge lies in determining the most profitable recreational elements. The right mix will create a lively, year-round destination. The wrong one will cause yawns in recreation seekers and lead fitness swimmers to look for facilities with more lap lanes.
The most successful aquatic centers respond to the diverse needs of different age groups. Young children enjoy zero-depth areas and "spray grounds" with hands-on water features. Tweens and teens want features to keep their adrenaline pumping and satisfy their craving for social interaction. Young professionals without children lean toward fitness options. During the week, parents of young children may hit the lap pool, but on weekends they seek out recreational spaces where their children can play safely. Another potential heavy user is the older adult, drawn to therapeutic offerings such as therapy pools, hot tubs and current streams.
Aesthetics and acoustics enhance the aquatic center experience. Facilities draw more people when they use materials, colors, forms, sounds, natural and artificial light, and artwork to charge the atmosphere. Non-water support spaces, ranging from fitness rooms and rock-climbing walls to party rooms, cafes and game areas, also can boost use and enjoyment.
Greening the way
Most modern indoor pool designs are sustainable because of their advanced dehumidification systems, which extract excess humidity from the air to heat the water.
Highly insulated ceilings, walls and floors, as well as energy-efficient heat-recovery ventilation and air-filtration systems, cut energy bills by returning latent heat energy to the pool. Ventilation and insulation systems also can reduce the corrosive effects of chlorine-heavy water vapor, and minimize health problems caused by evaporation’s unhealthful spawn (e.g., mold, mildew, bacteria and fungi).
Some pool facilities incorporate solar panels that preheat water before it reaches the boilers to help offset the cost of heating water. Water-efficient faucets, toilets and showers also conserve water in the locker room.
Daylighting systems can reduce the electrical load of artificial light. However, direct natural light on a pool promotes development of unhealthful organic compounds. Clerestory windows, ideally situated on the north wall, offer indirect natural light without creating unsafe glare on the pool.
Maintenance also plays a significant role in the pool facility’s sustainability, especially when it comes to fighting germs. When chlorine reacts with organic compounds such as sweat and skin cells, it forms chloroform, which has negative health effects.
One response is the ultraviolet (UV) sanitizer; it kills some of those chloroform-generating germs, thereby reducing the amount of chlorine needed. The size of a pool, frequency of use, and type of filtering system will drive maintenance needs and expenditures.
Brosnan, AIA, LEED AP, is president/CEO and Haug, AIA, LEED AP, is principal in charge of design at Legat Architects, Inc., Chicago, an architectural and interior design firm specializing in planning, programming, sustainability consulting and design. firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.