coastlands-aquatic-centreBy Angelique Praat

‘People walk into the Coastlands Aquatic Centre and say “Wow”,’ says Alison Law, Kapiti District Council’s Parks and Recreation Manager. We’re chatting about the process of designing and building a public aquatic facility – aka a pool. Alison is also telling us about her role in making the Coastlands Aquatic Centre work.

‘That wow is triggered by the award winning-roof which lets in the natural light and connects pool users to the outside. The roof captures the heat and blocks out 95% of the UV. Pool users love that. And our power bills are low. But high heat capture and retention can become a headache (literally) on hot days for staff and spectators. So we’ve introduced counter-measures to manage the heat.’

This is one example of the operational trade-offs that Alison is managing. ‘No pool is perfect,’ says Alison. ‘But we can create better facilities by doing our research and having the right people on the design teams.’

Alison came late to the development of the Coastlands Aquatic Centre. She’s played a critical role in helping to complete the project and make pool visits a user-friendly experience.

While access to the main pool for people with disabilities was an issue to begin with, the pool is now a destination for those users. For Alison and her staff, thinking hard and having options for pool accessibility has made the centre a better place for everyone. ‘We have a ramp and a hoist. Too be truly accessible, I think you need a ramp, a hoist and low riser stairs.’

We asked Alison for her top tips going into the design and build process for a public pool.

‘Pools are inherently expensive and run at a huge loss, so they need to be operationally efficient. Generally speaking, only pools with fitness centres make money.’

If a fitness centre isn’t part of your plan (or even if it is) here are some things that could save you anxiety and money.

Include a pool-focused specialist on the project team. ‘Pool managers know what’s functional and user friendly. They know about best practice in industry and they’ll know the limited number of specialists. They should be involved in the whole process: design, research with users, choosing contractors and overseeing the build.’

Find out what users want. ‘Who is in your community? How will they use the pool? What will that mean for the design and ongoing operation of your pool? If you don’t talk to all potential users, you could end up with some costly work-arounds on completion. Young families have different needs to competition swimmers, or hydrotherapy users.’

Think how it’s going to operate. ‘You want a design that is beautiful and functional. If you incorporate blind spots and recessed areas into your design, you’re adding to staffing costs. For example, having a spa pool sunk below sight line of the main pool could cost you $40K extra a year for the staff member minding the spa pool. You need to be thinking about clear line of sight, easy to life guard, but still an interesting space.’

Don’t forget about storage. ‘Lack of storage is one of pool managers’ biggest complaints. Where are you going to put your inflatables for kids, your lane dividers, and all that equipment when it’s not in the pool?’

Do the research on the firms putting in proposals. ‘Ask for references and testimonials and look at spaces they’ve designed.  Ask: how are those pools wearing? How are they working?  There’s nothing like trying facilities yourself if you have the opportunity. If you don’t use a space, how are you going to design something that people want to use?’

Think hard about where services are coming from and who will maintain them. ‘If the people who install the services have to maintain them – what’s that going to cost you? For example, the company that provides our heat pump is several hours away.  They can’t always get here in time to see a fault for themselves. Consider including a weight for ‘local suppliers’ on criteria for your tender proposal.’

And what about working with architects?

‘Work with someone who gets the end-user and the service you need to provide. Mark, from Architecture HDT, is always ready to listen to managers because managers run the facility. You need someone with the technical expertise (specifying the non-slippy tiles), the user angle, and someone who is prepared to listen to managers. Mark has both functionality and the look-good angle in focus.’

If all that seems a lot to grapple with, take heart: you’re not alone.

‘There is plenty of great advice out there,’ says Alison. ‘The New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) and Sport NZ host guidelines for developing and operating aquatic centres. And a little known secret – the NZRA also offer a peer review process for pool designs. You could have several expert eyes evaluating your design before you break ground.’

Good advice when you’re spending thousands or more likely millions on your new facility.



Thanks to Alison Law for her help with this article.


Guidelines for aquatic centres and peer review

Coastlands Aquatic Centre


About Architecture and Design NZ

Bringing expert insight and advice on commercial space and building design.  Architecture and Design NZ is co-edited by Mark Bates, Mike Davies and Geoff Glynan, directors at Architecture HDT, specialists in Commercial and Community pool design in New Zealand.

Architecture HDT are based in Wellington and the Hawkes Bay.