The Challenge of Renovating Historic Aquatic Facilities

September 5, 2017, Department, by Robin Steinshnider and David Mills

2017 September Operations Historic Aquatic Facilities 410

How many times have you heard, “You can’t tear that pool down, that’s where I learned to swim 50 years ago!” People grow attached to the institutions that mark major milestones in their lives. Communities develop sentimental attachments to their local parks. And, even though these facilities may be obsolete, both physically and programmatically, it is difficult for the public to imagine them changing from the way they live in memories.

A Little History
One of the few things that make summer in Texas bearable is swimming, so it’s no surprise that the city of Dallas has a long pool history that started with the first “neighborhood” pool, dating back to the 1920s and ending with the last “community” pool built in 1978. At the peak of the pool boom, Dallas operated a system of 107 pools — 84 neighborhood pools and 23 community pools. Coinciding with the boom in facilities, attendance began a dramatic decline in the late 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s, resulting in the closure of many of the neighborhood pools. Major changes in the Texas Health Code forced the closure of the remaining neighborhood pools in 1999.

In 2001, the city determined that an aquatic master plan was needed to address the replacement of physically obsolete aquatic facilities and to improve the overall level of service to the public in a financially sustainable way. While the master plan laid out a strategy for the future of the Dallas aquatics system, no action was taken because of a lack of available funds. With the economic downturn in 2007 and 2008, the park department faced shrinking operating and capital improvement budgets, which led to the closure or limited operating hours of the remaining community pools. Some of the aged pools (oldest 1947; newest 1978) were patched up to keep operating, while others were literally cannibalized for parts. Uncertainty about which pools were open and the limited operating hours led to further decreases in pool attendance.

After Dallas began to recover from the economic downturn of 2008, pools once again became a top priority for the park department. Surrounding municipalities began to build new aquatic centers, and the disparity between the facilities in Dallas and those in neighboring communities became even more evident. Dallas was losing swimmers to the suburbs, where they could enjoy modern amenities, including moving water, interactive play elements, varying depths for different age groups, areas for swim lessons, swim teams, shade structures, updated bathhouses and concessions.

A new aquatics master plan was commissioned in 2012 to determine the feasibility of developing a system of more economically sustainable family aquatic centers throughout the city. With the strong support of the park and recreation board, $32 million was identified for construction of new aquatic facilities, which was followed by an update to the master plan intended to map out how best to use the available funds. Three years later, a team of planners, architects, engineers and aquatic consultants were assembled to implement the aquatics master plan. To provide an equal level of service for the three regions of the city, the adopted master plan proposed a phase one consisting of three regional family aquatic centers, two community family aquatic centers, one neighborhood family aquatic center and three spray grounds. Due to the availability of funding and operational logistics, the master plan was split into two construction packages, starting with the regional centers in the first year (opening in 2018), followed by the community, neighborhood and spray ground facilities in the second year (opening in 2019).

While most of the new aquatic centers will involve the total demolition and replacement of existing pools, two that are in well-established, historic parks required a different approach. Samuell Grand Park and Tietze Park are in older neighborhoods, minutes from downtown Dallas. These old pools, typical examples of pools in the Dallas park system, featured a trapezoidal-shaped, 105-foot-long pool with five lap lanes and three diving boards. With the change in Texas State Codes in 1999, all diving boards were removed, which significantly reduced the “fun factor.” Additions of small slides and climbing walls at some locations helped to address this, but were not a real solution.

Samuell Grand Pool
Samuell Grand Park, one of the largest parks in the Dallas park system, consists of two golf courses, a driving range, tennis center, outdoor amphitheater, recreation center, ball fields and an outdoor pool on more than 400 acres. The existing pool opened to the public in 1953 and cost $90,000 to construct. The bathhouse, designed by a notable local architecture firm, has a mid-century modern aesthetic featuring ledge stone, redwood louvers, deep overhangs and a unique curving staircase leading to an elevated sundeck. Saving this iconic feature of the park was important to the park department and many in the neighborhood who had grown up enjoying this pool.

During the master planning process, this facility was designated as a regional aquatic center because of its prime location in the eastern section of the city. Regional facilities will be the largest of the family aquatic centers and will feature an eight-lane lap pool, lazy river, kids pool, play features, slides with plunge pool, shade structures and a bathhouse. Regional facilities are projected to have a capacity of 600 visitors.

Tietze Pool
Built in 1947, Tietze Pool, and another pool built the same year, share the distinction of being the oldest operating pools in the Dallas park system. At 70 years old, it holds a special place in the memories of several generations of users that have passed through its gates. Tietze Pool is part of an 8.5-acre park that also houses a Work Projects Administration-era stone pavilion with concession stand, softball field, tennis court, basketball court, playground and a half-mile loop trail. An active Friends Group supports the park by organizing activities, raising funds and advocating for improvements.

Because the Tietze Pool is in a small park with limited parking, the master plan identified it as a “neighborhood” aquatic center. Neighborhood centers feature a four-lane lap pool, kid pool, play features, slides with run-out, shade structures and bathhouse and are designed for a capacity of 200 visitors.

In with the New While Keeping the Old
The greatest challenge with renovating the Samuell Grand and Tietze bathhouses was in meeting current codes — the energy code, ADA and health services code — in buildings that are seven decades old.

At both bathhouses, raising deck levels to the height of existing buildings to eliminate steps, widening doorways in existing stone and brick walls, and squeezing new program needs into existing spaces are examples of these challenges. Existing restrooms are not ADA accessible, are difficult to maneuver in and have inadequate plumbing fixture counts. Showers and changing stalls must replace the single old-school, pull-chain deck shower. Codes also require the addition of hot water, not only for the locker rooms, but also for the concession stands that were included as part of the project.

The concession stands also serve as a prime example of how design and operational choices can impact construction. For the concession stand menu offerings at both centers, the health services code requires air conditioning where none previously existed. The new HVAC system requires that the building envelope meet the energy code, which mandates insulation. In addition, the ADA requires specific heights for counters and the reworking of stone openings.

At Samuell Grand, repurposing the old bathhouse posed several challenges for the design team, because the building did not provide all the space to meet current needs and was also in violation of current ADA and energy codes. The design strategy calls for renovating the old bathhouse and constructing a new building, doubling the space. The old bathhouse will house a new concession stand, a covered outdoor eating area, two family restrooms and a storage room, while the new building will house ticketing, office, lifeguard and locker rooms, and a storage space. A compatible filtration building was designed to conceal equipment and replace the old filtration yard. The new building adjoins the old bathhouse and is oriented to form the entrance portal to the facility. Architects borrowed design elements from the old bathhouse to create a compatible aesthetic. This approach preserves an important element of the existing facility and now provides a focal point for the new pools.

From the very first public meeting, it was clear that the Tietze Park neighborhood felt strongly about keeping its historic stone pool building. Similar to Samuell Grand, its stone building, featuring large arched entries, posed numerous challenges. The old building housed a men’s and women’s restroom on one side and small ticket office and storage space on the other, connected by a covered entry breezeway. Locker rooms needed to be expanded to meet code in their existing location, so the design team decided to convert the entire pool building to include a men’s and women’s locker room, a family restroom and equipment storage space. This design decision meant that the ticket office would be moved to the old concession building where it would share space with the renovated concession space and a small guard room. This approach relocates the pool entrance to an existing plaza in the middle of the park and allows concessions to serve the pool and the park. A new filtration building was also needed and designed to complement the architecture of the existing buildings and replace the old equipment yard.

The ripple effect of design decisions and the need to meet current codes have an impact on construction budgets, but the cost is well worth it, as we preserve the history and memories of our fast-changing cities.

Robin Steinshnider is the Aquatic Services Manager for Dallas Park & Recreation. David Mills is an Architect and Project Manager for the Dallas Park & Recreation Department.