The Family Aquatic Center

The Family Aquatic Center – Kettering, Ohio

Carl F. Fuerst

Combining an existing indoor community center swimming pool with the new facilities of an outdoor family aquatic center has provided the City of Kettering, Ohio, with an exciting, popular and financially successful leisure attraction. Families, adults and children are participating in record numbers as aquatic attendance and revenues reach new heights. The fact that revenues from the newly combined indoor and outdoor aquatic facility consistently exceeded operating expenses has become a goal successfully met by the City’s new Family Aquatic Center.

The concept of a single year-round indoor and outdoor aquatic center to serve the Kettering community was a primary recommendation of a 1988 Swimming Pool Study prepared by the City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department and its consultant Leisure Concepts and Design, Inc. As part of the planning process, we abandoned an existing outdoor pool and eliminated a second outdoor site, preferring to establish one aquatic facility to serve the entire community of more than 60,000 people. Jim Garges, director of parks, recreation, and cultural arts, suggests, “This single aquatic center concept was a critical decision to the ultimate success of our aquatic plans. Our one new facility now serves the public’s interest far better than the two original pools.” The original swimming pool study also became an integral part of the leisure facility study that included developing “centers” for aquatics, recreation, senior adults, fitness and ice skating.

A second critical decision in the 1988 study process was adopting die family aquatic center concept as the facility of choice for the new and adjoining outdoor swimming pool.

The existing and rather traditional indoor pool remains as a 25-yard, eight-lane competitive tank. Prior to adding the outdoor Family Aquatic Center, this indoor pool was basically underutilized and received less than enthusiastic support as a leisure pool. Although it has a removable air-supported fabric roof, allowing the pool to be open in the summer, the annual 12-month attendance prior to the addition was less than 61,000 swimmers.

We designed the aquatic revitalization program to maintain the existing indoor pool and develop additional complimentary outdoor aquatic facilities that would encourage greater youth, adult and family participation. In addition, we hoped that other participants in the recreation complex such as senior adults, teens, and fitness and preschool recreators would find it convenient to use the indoor pool facilities.

The City Park, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department required in the study process that the new aquatic facility meet several goals. The aquatic center must: provide new and exciting aquatic opportunities for families, adults and children; provide an increase in participation with revenues sufficient to meet operating expenses; be appropriate for use by all ages and those with disabilities; provide an attractive, exciting, safe, quality aquatic experience on a year-round basis; and provide additional bather capacity for the high-use summer months.

Following the successful passage of a bond referendum, the new and revitalized Family Aquatic Center opened in 1991. The community’s acceptance was immediate and the city was gratified with the dramatic increase in attendance and revenues.

The most innovative new facility in the outdoor Family Aquatic Center is the 11,000-square-foot zero depth pool with a maximum depth of four feet Jody L. Stowers, recreation superintendent, notes, “The new outdoor Family Aquatic Center is truly our main attraction.” The zero depth pool with its extensive areas of shallow water is being applauded by our many families, adults and children who found little to enjoy in the traditional pools minimum depth of three-and-a-half feet of water.

The zero depth pool encourages parents and children to play together–a welcome change from parents watching their children splashing alone in a separate wading pool,” notes Garges.

In addition to the zero depth pool, a variety of aquatic alternatives provide a high level of entertainment value for young and old alike in Kettering. The two water flume slides provide the perfect opportunity for those seeking the thrills of a high and fast ride plunging into the pool below. The water playground features water in motion, water jets, waterfalls and the like and offers great ways for the family to enjoy a new water experience. The exhilaration of standing beneath a pounding waterfall or challenging a spray of water jets are all new and exciting opportunities for the pool patrons.

Upon leaving the water, a majority of Family Aquatic Center patrons find a very enjoyable and relaxed environment. The combination of sun, shade and concessions are available for their pleasure. Sun decks with chaise lounges and sun turf areas are popular features for casual relaxation and small group special activities. While a sunny hot day is part of the fun, many appreciate the opportunity to relax in the shade of trees or sun umbrellas in the attractive landscaped environment.

Many patrons are now staying longer, and quality food and beverage service is a requisite in making the visit a pleasurable experience. A concession stand, a mobile concession cart, concession decks and shaded patios provide the opportunity for the majority of patrons to enjoy a variety of refreshments in an attractive aquatic environment.

One of the most popular children’s attractions is the innovative sand playground that features equipment encouraging the combination of sand and water play. Beach volleyball on the sand court also provides a high-energy activity for many young adults who return repeatedly for the opportunity to challenge competing teams and players.

Many other features distinguish the outdoor Family Aquatic Center from the traditional public swimming pool. A common adult complaint of overcrowding at public pools has been satisfied by expanding the fenced area around the pool. The enlarged activity area around the pool has reduced user density and the perimeter fencing can scarcely be seen by aquatic patrons. The new “park-like” landscaped environment surrounding the pool has also succeeded in eliminating the confining “stockade” effect common at most older pools.

An additional benefit from the onsite separation of the indoor competitive pool and the outdoor Family Aquatic Center is the ability to conduct separate scheduled events such as swim meets and instructional classes at the same time the Family Aquatic Center is open for public swimming.

Stowers further notes, “The community’s response to these new Family Aquatic Center facilities has been overwhelming. We have seen significant increase in family, adult and child participation, not to mention our senior and special populations.”

Developing the outdoor family aquatic concept as a complementary facility to the existing indoor pool is considered a primary factor in setting new attendance and revenue records since the center’s completion in 1991.

Garges firmly believes that the community’s acceptance, along with the participation of thousands of families, adults and children, confirms the decision of adding the outdoor Family Aquatic Center to the indoor/ outdoor pool as part of the Kettering Recreation Complex.

We’ve accomplished our original goal of producing revenues that exceed operating expenses. Comparing the previous annual attendance of the original indoor/outdoor pool and the now abandoned outdoor pool with that of the new year-round aquatic center shows an annual increase in attendance of 103 percent.

A yearly attendance of 81,755 in 1989 increased to 165,785 in 1991. The community’s summer swimming pool attendance also increased 151 percent, going from 53,000 for both original pools to 133,250 for the new center. This reflects an average daily attendance of more than 1,400 swimmers in 1991.

Consistent with increased attendance, total revenues increased 127 percent, going from $169,000 in 1989 to $383,590 in 1991. The revenues in 1991 reflected the following increases: 227 percent in general admissions, 124 percent in season passes, 7.6 percent in instruction programs, 748 percent in pool rentals and 194 percent in locker rentals. A significant increase in concession revenues was also noted. We received significantly more total revenues, while the fees for admission remained low. The admission fee for residents at $1 for youth and $2 for adults, with a doubled rate for nonresidents.

A comparison of year-round cost for the new and larger combined aquatic center noted a relatively small increase in expenditure from $237,235 to $262,555. From a deficit operation of $68,210 in 1989 the operational account had a positive balance of $121,035 in 1991.

For those citizens in the community and in local government who developed and encouraged the concept of building the new adjoining outdoor Family Aquatic Center, their support has been justified. The public’s acceptance is reflected in the increase in attendance and revenues which for the first time exceeded operating costs. The fact that a tax subsidy for operating the aquatic center would no longer be required was good news for citizens and public officials alike.

Additional community support for the early decision to develop the Family Aquatic Center was clearly reflected in a 1992 Citizen Leisure Survey conducted by Dr. Digby Whyte, Indiana University. The survey released that 46 percent of the households in Kettering participated in swimming activities at the Kettering Recreation Complex.

COPYRIGHT 1993 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group