It’s a Numbers Game

Published: Parks and Rec Business

By Kevin Post and George Deines

In a world where the goal is getting closer and closer to 100% cost recovery, aquatic operators not only have to balance chemicals on a daily basis but also finances. Using real world data from both indoor and outdoor municipal pools and waterparks, three areas stand out for aquatic operations: industry trends, basic budgeting, and facility maintenance planning.

 Industry Trends

With the evolution of the family aquatic center throughout the municipal parks and recreation world, it’s much more prevalent to find “waterpark-type attractions” (wave pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, etc.) closer to home than it was 20 years ago. This trend in the municipal environment toward thrill rides allows for more financially sustainable opportunities, but also provides more competition in the marketplace for those critical “make or break” 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year.

Since today’s aquatic centers incorporate recreation swimming and wellness pools to augment revenue of competitive swimming, thereby creating multigenerational facilities through shared expenses, trends continue to point to adventurous attractions. But don’t forget to incorporate passive play spaces for those who want a calmer, relaxing environment, such as current channels, children’s areas, and whirlpool spas.  By providing multigenerational spaces so that families can experience the park together, you will capture a greater audience since you have “something for everyone” which will increase attendance and revenue, the two primary drivers of a sustainable operation.

Developing a careful selection of which water spaces to incorporate in your facility will have a lasting effect on the guest experience, as well as the sustainability of the operation. This is typically performed in a feasibility study prior to building a new aquatic center or the expansion of an existing one, often using a survey as its foundation.

Basic Budgeting

While catering to the needs of the demographics of your community to help make your facility a success from day one, you also need to incorporate a budget plan to ensure that the amenities you provide will allow for a financially sustainable operation.  Paying careful attention to the financial details of the facility will help you plan for budgets and run a more efficient and sustainable operation.

After analyzing basic budgets across the country, aquatic operations typically include five primary areas of expenses:

Personnel/labor

  • Chemicals
  • Utilities
  • Maintenance
  • Operational supplies

As the public perceives the facility, expectations are judged from the moment they enter. Professional presentation must constantly be examined and carried out by management in its policy. The aquatic director develops the training of all staff and implements all operational procedures and budgets.

On average, aquatic personnel costs will make up at least 50% of any operational budget, and sometimes can get close to 75-80% depending on the size of the facility, number of operating hours, and staffing levels required in maintaining a safe environment.  Managing labor strategically and effectively will be the primary factor in turning around and lowering the financial expense numbers of any aquatic operation. For example, if you run a facility that operates 16 hours a day during the week, and another 12 hours each on Saturday and Sunday, scheduling one extra (and possibly unnecessary) lifeguard at $8 an hour can add up fast, $43,264 over the course of one year, to be exact!

After labor costs, we found that chemicals, utilities, and maintenance all typically fall into the 8-12% range, while operational supplies will make up the other 3-5%. These numbers may vary from year to year depending on the scope of maintenance projects, as well as any emergency repairs that need to be made.  For example, an outdoor wave pool that has a $9,000 air compressor malfunction, or an indoor pool that needs major plaster repairs, will obviously have a huge jump in maintenance expenses compared to a year when all the equipment  functions properly.

Facility Maintenance Planning

Aquatic facility maintenance always proves to be one of the top challenges faced by aquatic facility operators. When designing a new aquatic facility or adding amenities, your aquatic designer will explain the benefits and weaknesses of new products, as well as complying with codes and regulations in the industry. But because of the sheer number of sophisticated and moving parts associated with keeping a facility running, (especially with all the new technologies that have been introduced over the past several years), operators should develop an ongoing facility maintenance and replacement plan.

The pool operations team includes the overall maintenance of the pool system and features for risk reduction to the users, employees, and facility. Pump room technicians include a unique skill set, including Certified Pool Operator (CPO) or Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) for day-to-day chemical knowledge in order to operate the facility in compliance with the local health department requirements. Operations include industry knowledge for inspection to identify and fix necessary parts and repairs.

The maintenance plan should take into account the lifespans for the various pieces of equipment to help counteract the signs of aging at the facility.  While the pool structure may stay in place for over 50 years, the mechanical systems finished have a much shorter lifespan.  By developing a list of every piece of onsite equipment, notating the installation date, the expected lifespan, and the repair/replacement cost, this plan can help you determine the yearly budget accordingly so you don’t end up with unexpected hits.  As a general rule of thumb, a facility should save 0.5% of the construction cost each year for future repairs/replacements.  Saving a small amount each year will help make sure money is in place when the big repair item comes up.  Planning ahead, preventative maintenance, and constant communication with your organization’s financial director will significantly benefit your operations in the long run.

 Conclusion

Aquatic facilities contain complex equipment, amenities, and support spaces that require intensive planning and extreme quality control measures. Balancing numbers in your aquatic operations entails several different areas, including basic budgeting, an equipment maintenance plan, as well as staying ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest trends in aquatics for a new facility or expanding an existing one. Aquatic operators who spend time analyzing and planning these three areas to manage and achieve daily results, will set the tone for their organization’s future success and financial sustainability.