Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Analyzing Options for an Aging Aquatic Facility Replace or Renovate

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Analyzing Options for an Aging Aquatic Facility Replace or Renovate

Article excerpt

See if this story sounds familiar. You're operating a community swimming pool that, in its heyday, was the centerpiece of summertime activity.

It was the place to be on a hot summer day, with nearly every kid and parent in town diving, splashing, and socializing by the pool. Now, 30 years later, attendance has nearly dried up, and so will the pool if the leaks and cracks can't be patched together for another season. A pool once sparkling and attractive no longer invites the same number of eager patrons. Even if the pool can be salvaged, is it really providing the recreation the community wants?

Scenarios similar to this are being played out all across the country. A boom of community swimming pools accompanied America's rush to the suburbs in the 1950s and '60s, and now these pools are facing their golden years. Most of these facilities are showing their age, while a few have resisted the ravages of time. Regardless, nearly all share the same attendance and draining revenue. What's the best way to turn this tide? The answers vary from case to case. Many communities have successfully modified existing structures and won back significant enthusiasm and attendance. Others have started again from scratch. Deciding which direction is right can be a challenge, but with research, analysis and some educating effort, you can determine whether renovation or replacement is right for your facility.

Hold On to What You've Got

Just because your aquatic facility isn't a teenager anymore doesn't mean it can't have a little pride in how it looks. Just as you exercise and eat wisely (or at least have good intentions) to maintain your health, an ongoing "fitness" program for your swimming pool, deck, bathhouse and mechanical areas will prolong the useful life of the facility. Even little acts of tender loving care--keeping grass and weeds from growing on the deck, caulking seams and repairing cracks, maintaining fresh paint--will not only extend the functional life of the facility, but will encourage attendance by making the facility more appealing. These outcomes will help maximize revenue, and when it comes time to represent your case for changes, you'll be able to show you've done everything possible with the existing facility.

Also, at this time, it will be immensely useful later to have substantive documentation of the current and recent operating history of the facility, so start building a file. Include safety reports, maintenance issues, attendance and revenue. This history will be helpful, again, when it is time to seek the support of civic leaders.

Know Your Customers

Before deciding which direction is right for the future of your community, you should know what the community thinks. Find out what your patrons like and what they don't like. While this can be accomplished through mailed or phone surveys, a more honest response comes from surveying customers in person on the deck. People are less likely to simply complain, and instead, are more likely to respond with an honest and constructive opinion. Appropriate topics for evaluation include staffing, quality of service, cleanliness, water quality, overall appearance, what they like best--and least--about the facility, and what amenities might be added that would make them more likely to attend more often.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, than knowing who your customers are and what they like, is knowing who your customers aren't and why they aren't coming to your pool. This is often a much larger group of potential customers than your active customers. You need to know why people who once came to your pool are no longer attending. Have the demographics changed--has the community aged, lost employers, or experienced a move in population center--or have people simply opted for a different recreational opportunity? You can't make a good business decision about how to improve your facility if you don't know what improvements will draw patrons back. …

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