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Walking on Water

aquatic facilities

Everyone loves winning awards and being recognized for hard work and exceptional performance. It can be quite the confidence boost. However, as a health club, gaining recognition requires extreme commitment, outstanding facilities, and excellent services and programming.

We spoke with a few health club operators who highlight what makes their aquatic facilities not only top-notch, but in some cases, award winning. Here are five key areas to consider if you want to make a splash with your pool offerings.

The ‘Wow’ Factor

The first step to operating a top-notch aquatic facility is an outstanding environment. You want members to be in awe of everything you have to offer. This can include multiple pools and unique amenities.

The Merritt Athletic Club Eldersburg location was recently named the top aquatic facility in Carrol County, Maryland. According to Mark Miller, the vice president of Merritt Athletic Clubs, the recognition is due to a variety of factors.

“Our aquatic facility offers four pools — two indoor and two outdoor,” said Miller. “We have an indoor warm water recreation pool used for swim lessons, arthritis classes and family swim, and a five-lane lap pool. Outdoor facilities offer a wading pool and a family fun pool, which features a current channel, vortex and three slides.”

Health Bridge Fitness Center, with two locations in Illinois, lures members to its aquatic facility by providing indoor and outdoor pools with waterslides. The outdoor pools have concessions for lunch and refreshments. And, at the Manhattan Plaza Health Club (MPHC) in New York City, a tranquil atmosphere is key to providing the “wow” factor members seek. The pool is set under a retractable glass atrium roof with lush tropical plants lining the pool deck.


Provide Something For Everyone 

An obvious way to get the largest percentage of members to take advantage of aquatic programming is to offer a little something for everyone. Programs should appeal to multiple ages, genders and fitness levels.

“Offer something for everyone from learn-to-swim to [athletic] swimming,” said Miller. “Aquatic departments have the opportunity to make a ‘wow’ impression when well-run and creatively programmed. Use the full market of your club by offering family events and family swim times, and take advantage of new opportunities when they arise.”

At Merritt Athletic Club Eldersburg, members can choose from a full range of aquatic programming, including Michael Phelps Swim School, Learn to Swim Lessons, private lessons, aqua physical therapy, triathlon clinics, endurance athlete training, aqua fitness classes and much more.

Angela Bianco, the aquatics manager at Health Bridge Fitness Center, agreed a diversity in programming is beneficial. “We do group lessons for both adults and children,” she said. “We offer private lessons for anyone from a beginner to people who are interested in triathlons and who want to improve their swimming skill and speed. We have water aerobics, the warm water pools for arthritis classes and physical therapy.”

However, Miller explained running such a diverse offering of programs comes with its obstacles. “The biggest challenges is the timing of all the programs; so lap swimmers, aqua fitness and swim team can all have ideal times and not conflict with each other,” he added.

And of course, keeping programming fresh by frequently adding new formats takes effort. Andrea Decaneas, the director of member services at MPHC, suggested staying in-tune with the latest aquatic programming trends, as well as feedback from members.


Create  A Community 

Whether with members or the outside community, make your aquatic facility a destination where everyone wants to be. “Our pools are a place where people from the community and members can come and relax with their friends and families, enjoy our facilities, and socialize with each other,” said Bianco.

Health Bridge Fitness Center extends its facilities and services beyond the member base. “We have outside groups come in to bring children who need to be in warm water pools for therapy,” explained Bianco. “We also have high schools come in because around here they don’t have places to practice.”

The club also fosters a sense of community within the aquatic center by offering its own in-house swim team, which has been a huge hit with members. “Our Hammerhead Swim Team has been around for two years now,” said Bianco. “The maximum number of participants we can have is 88, but we have over 125 kids try out for the team because it is such a wonderful program.”


Quality Staff

Regardless of how fantastic your facility and programming are, none of this will matter without exceptional staff. “What makes an outstanding aquatic facility is enthusiastic members and staff,” said Decaneas. “When our staff loves to swim here, we know our members will love it, too.”

When asked why the Health Bridge Fitness Center aquatic programs have been so successful, Bianco said it is a result of staff training and engagement. All swim instructors and lifeguards at the gym are Red Cross Certified and get re-certified every two years. “I really believe success starts with hiring, training and keeping employees engaged,” she said. “Ensure that you have the right people in the right roles.”


Pristine Facilities 

Finally, ensuring your aquatic facilities are clean is crucial. While it is not the most glamorous topic, it is essential in maintaining member satisfaction. Decaneas explained the pool at MPHC is vacuumed several times per week and the pool area is maintained by cleaning staff continuously throughout the day. She also suggested creating a preventative maintenance plan.

“Our preventative maintenance plan isn’t too comprehensive, but includes regular checkups of the system to make sure everything is working properly,” said Decaneas. “We also work with an outside company that services the pump, filters and chlorine feeders. The pool operator also does daily checks to ensure that everything is functioning.”

Emily Harbourne

Emily Harbourne is the assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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