Learn why the cold season is an ideal time for aquatics developments and activities.
For many rec centers, the winter season is a time where indoor aquatics activities ramp up and outdoor offerings go on hiatus. However, this leaves open opportunities for expansion and construction projects. This was showcased by the Aaron Family JCC of Dallas where workers spent the previous winter constructing a new outdoor pool experience.
This area opened in the summer and features a six-lane lap pool and a beachfront recreational pool featuring multiple play structures, slides, splash pads and shaded areas for all ages.
Daniel Taylor, the assistant executive director of the Aaron Family JCC of Dallas, said the idea was to complete construction during the colder months so the center could still run the majority of its summer aquatics programming.
“Winters in Dallas are pretty mild,” said Taylor. “We’re not facing months on end of snow and ice. For us, weather didn’t greatly impact construction at all. We built this area because we had a 56-year-old outdoor pool that was a standard, nice pool but had no features, slides or anything to it. We decided it was time to build an outdoor aquatics space with all the features our community was looking for.”
For the project to become a reality, Taylor said they first started with a clear vision of what they wanted through visioning sessions. Then, JCC leadership talked to the donors who were investing in this development while also communicating with staff internally to see what their priorities were.
Now, the Dallas JCC has two climate-controlled outdoor pools that can be enjoyed year-round along with the J’s two indoor pools. The outdoor experience will also have a cafe area along with cabanas and new furniture. All the fresh features helped fill out the center’s mission: to provide state-of-the-art facilities and an inclusive environment for the community.
“This was asked for by the community when we went out and asked them what the No. 1 thing they wanted to see at the JCC,” said Taylor. “They said they wanted a destination pool, so we believe we’re going to continue to bring the community together in an inclusive environment with this new area. When designing the project, we thought about all families. That’s why it has so many different facets and features to really serve everyone.”
Giving the community an adaptable experience is also a core value at the YMCA of San Diego where Kimberly Sultz, the aquatics director at the Y, said the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA branch has a retractable roof for its entire aquatics facility.
“We’re able to adjust how much airflow and rain are coming in at any given time,” said Sultz. “Our spa area is extra popular in the winter, and we also see an increase in our Master’s Swim program each winter. Once it’s too cold to swim in open water, we’re a safe, warm home for our lap swimmers.”
While Master’s Swim sees high participation in winter, Sultz said the Y runs swim lessons for individual swimmers at least six months old all year long. The program uniquely employs three focus areas to help attendees become fully realized swimmers: achievement, relationship building and belonging.
“We find when we balance those well, our swimmers stay year-round,” said Sultz. “Once swimmers finish lessons, we help them join one of our pathways. Those are leadership, which includes lifeguarding, swim instructing and volunteer work; competition such as swim team, Master’s Swim and Water Polo; and recreation like kayaking, snorkeling and paddle sports. When swimmers feel at home, they’ll keep coming back.”
To ensure the Y’s aquatics program is successful, Sultz said staff work with Lincoln Aquatics for most equipment needs and also engage with Knorr Systems when needed. Plus, the Y made a switch to using Traction Rec, a customer relationship management software, this fiscal year which increased access to cloud-based data and member information. For staff management and aquatics tasks, Sultz said they use the DigiQuatics app which has been effective thus far.
At the Dallas JCC, Taylor said the My J app, provided by upace, is used for all group classes, fitness and pool reservations, alerts, and messaging that goes out to membership. The company Poolsure acts as the JCC’s chemical delivery service and provides the controllers that run all the aquatics center’s chemical equipment.
These resources are needed especially in the winter when the JCC shifts aquatics programming to being more wellness-based. “We’ve done meditation classes in our warm pool and emphasized for people to come in and warm up in warm water,” said Taylor. “We’ve also played a lot with the holidays for themed events. We had a big Hanukkah night where the whole agency comes together.”
A similar focus on themed aquatics activities can be found at the YMCA of Springfield where the association’s two branches offer a variety of programs in the winter with a focus on family offerings.
Lou Bart, the marketing and communications director at the YMCA of Springfield, said with the removal of COVID-19 restrictions the Y has seen an increase in swim class numbers, especially over the winter months. This helped lead to the Y offering more unique activities.
“Be creative and fun,” said Bart. “For example, we introduced kayak rentals in the winter months. Overall, it’s our mission to provide a state-of-the-art aquatics facility to enhance health, fitness, recreation and competitive needs throughout our region.”
That mission is reflected at the Dallas JCC where the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy serves around 700 students weekly, year-round. Taylor said the J also has a special partnership with Vogel Alcove, a childcare agency based in Dallas, to provide children facing homelessness a location for swim lessons and fun.
“It’s our hope all of our aquatics offerings and programs help the community and membership grow,” said Taylor. “Our programs allow us to do more of what we do best. All these things add opportunity.”
By taking advantage of every opportunity no matter the weather or season of the year, community rec centers can make waves in the lives of everyone in their communities.
Photo courtesy of Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA.