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Aquatic Recreation in the West - Dispel Water Use Myths

How To Secure Support Of A New Community Pool

By Christa Plaza & Kristen Hodel - April 14, 2023

Aquatic Recreation in the West - Dispel Water Use Myths
Aquatic recreation in the West given the long-term drought, what is the future of pools for our communities? While the recent rain and snow across the West have temporarily eased extreme conditions in some areas, municipalities are heading indicators and implementing water conservation policies. For example, in 2022, Aurora, Colorado, implemented a new water conservation ordinance prohibiting nonfunctional cool weather turf in new developments. In addition, at the State level, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is developing a Turf Replacement Program to incentivize the voluntary replacement of nonessential irrigated turf. While these restrictions have not directly impacted our ability to fill swimming pools, our communities are wondering, are we being responsible?

As an architecture firm that designs pools and aquatic facilities, we take responsibility for working with parks and recreation professionals to dispel myths about water use for aquatic recreation. For example, at the 2022 Colorado Parks and Recreation Association annual conference in Breckenridge, four colleagues and I led a panel discussion on the state of aquatic recreation in the West.

Carol Cosby, Director of Parks and Recreation, Pueblo West Metro District, discussed navigating the impacts of water restrictions while planning to build a new aquatic center. In 2022, the Metro District underwent a water moratorium on new taps putting a spotlight on water consumption. As a result, the community voiced concerns over the amount of water needed to operate a new aquatic center. While the moratorium is lifted, fundraising for the facility remains underway, and distributing facts about the pool’s water requirements is critical to the project’s success. Carol is leading the effort to ensure the community knows there are far wiser water conservation options than limiting public pool access.

Swimming is essential to public health; to pull the plug (all puns intended) is irresponsible for public health. Drowning is the #1 cause of unintentional death of children aged 1-4 years, and public swimming facilities play a crucial role in preventing drownings. While only 56% of Americans have the five basic swimming skills, aquatics rank high on the community “wish” surveys (Swimming Pools in the US - Industry Data, Trends, Stats | IBISWorld). It is typical for parks and recreation swimming programs to reach capacity. 

Presenting the facts and relatable comparisons about water usage is vital to garnering support. 
One of the myths to dispel is that pools require too much water. The truth is that with proper maintenance and operations, a pool consumes considerably less water annually than is commonly perceived, far less than some other recreation amenities. For example:
  • A natural turf field in Colorado requires about 2.6 million gallons.
  • A 150-acre golf course takes 200 million gallons.
  • A typical 25-yard lap pool uses around 500,000 gallons.
For municipalities preparing to take the idea of a new pool to a public vote, a few best practices have been proven to increase the odds of passing a funding measure. During the CPRA presentation, panelists Scott Hickman, Carbon Valley Parks and Recreation District, Connor Riley, P.E., Studio Director, Kevin Post, Principal, Counsilman-Hunsaker, discussed pool water conservation best practices and community outreach. According to Counsilman-Hunsaker, pool projects that include community outreach average a 50% chance of moving forward;  those without have only a 30% chance. Plan for 6 to 12 months of outreach before going to voters with a funding vote and focus on presenting “why it is worth it.”

Talk, talk, talk! Get the work out to garner support. Information stations at high-traffic user groups locations, like, schools, recreation facilities, and grocery stores, staffed with informed and enthusiastic volunteers, quickly inform passersby about the benefits of voting ‘yes.’ Distributing concise talking points to be used in social media posts, local advertising, printed materials, and “town hall” meetings. Take the opportunity to dispel myths about irresponsible water usage. State exactly how much $ it will cost per household and the benefits that will be realized—the list is lengthy and proven. Stakeholders are eager to engage in focus groups and provide a platform to understand concerns and wishes. Gain the backing of community leaders by inviting them to participate. Create customized community engagement tools to help bridge what is realistic while allowing creative solutions to develop.

For more information about pool design and to obtain pool water consumption facts, contact Essenza Architecture. 


Eagle Pointe Recreation Center

Eagle Pointe Recreation Center

The popular recreation center provides a wide variety of health, fitness, creative programs, activities and classes to the Commerce City community and underwent major renovations to most of the 67,000sf facility, including a 6,000sf addition. With the goal of design innovation while melding the existing and the new, Eagle Pointe Recreation Center was a design challenge.

Lighting Design & Electrical Engineering Design

Almost all areas were updated with new lighting, lighting controls, electrical, and technology changes. It was a puzzle to combine new lighting with old and continue the use of the building"s existing controls and power systems, but the end result is seamless. In addition to new lighting controls throughout the entire space that helped with occupancy and dimming, some fun RGB lighting and controls were incorporated in group exercise classes. The reception desk also included a master shut off for all lighting in the rec center anytime during the day, and an automatic shut off after closing.

Audio / Video Design

To accommodate a large list of owner requirements upgrading the technology designs, such as the large video wall in the cardio area, we coordinated closely between designers and recreation center management teams. Extra care during design and construction was required to integrate the new Audio / Video technology with the lighting. AE Design"s design goals for the Cardio Room revolved completely around the guest experience. In order to provide a customize able experience to guests, we calculated and specified a projector and emissive TV combination in the room, careful to match the brightness of the different displays. To give guests individual control, sound can be accessed via phone app digitally and privately accessing sound of each of the display screens. During group exercise activities, such as movie night utilizing the large projection screen, column array speakers can be utilized to help immerse the group. Overall, the project is not your typical recreation center. We made strategic upgrades, utilized lighting in creative ways, and selected fixtures, helping to highlight a unique gem for the community.

By: AE Design  |


Environmentally Friendly Locker Rooms Can Lead to Savings

Kelsey Cipolla, AIE

Environmentally Friendly Locker Rooms Can Lead to Savings

By: Kelsey Cipolla, AIE - June 1, 2013  |  Originally published at

Locker rooms are high-traffic areas that use large amounts of energy and water, and purchasing products that reduce the amount of energy and water wasted can be good for both the environment and a club"s bottom line.

The Columbia Association, a Columbia, MD-based nonprofit organization that operates three health clubs, implemented large-scale energy saving measures in its locker rooms, including energy recovery units that use existing heat in the air to help heat air coming in and reduce humidity. The association also installed a water-cooled condenser bundle that uses heat from the air to heat water being used for showers and laundry, which conserves energy.

“You really have to start with where you can make the most impact, and that would be the locker rooms," says Dennis Mattey, the Columbia Association"s director of construction.

Although these long-term investments come with a large upfront cost, Mattey says they make sense for his facilities and others that have significant energy costs. The Columbia Association also is in the process of constructing a new facility, which will feature recycled countertops, ceiling tiles and carpeting.

Using eco-friendly or recycled materials when constructing or renovating locker rooms allows health club operators to go green from the ground up. Environmentally friendly products can cost 3 percent to 5 percent more than traditional products, but many companies are now recycling old materials to make new ones as part of their manufacturing process at no additional cost to consumers, says Christa Plaza, owner of Essenza Architecture, a Louisville, CO-based firm that specializes in green design.

“For a long time, they were just so expensive, but now that"s starting to change," Plaza says. “It used to be kind of unattainable for some clubs. Now, it"s like almost everyone can do it if we design things properly and help them with the products."

Plaza says that installing low-water-use plumbing fixtures and LED lights, which use less energy and last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent lights, can make a big difference on utility bills.

Other Ways to Go Green

Lockers also can be made of recycled materials, but there are other materials and processes that help make lockers even more environmentally friendly. Using wood veneer instead of solid wood to make lockers reduces the amount of wood wasted by around 60 percent, which translates into fewer trees being used, says Rebecca Tearman, marketing manager for Hollman Inc., an Irving, TX-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly lockers.

Hollman lockers also go through a water-based UV finishing line, which does not contain volatile organic compounds, substances that can affect indoor air quality and have been linked to health risks, Tearman says.

Health club operators do not need to renovate their locker rooms to introduce green products. Even small changes can make a positive environmental impact, says Brian Kincaid, marketing director for health and fitness for GOJO, Akron, OH, which produces green certified hygiene and shower products.

Providing green hand sanitizers can help improve hygiene without requiring members to use water or paper towels, and green shower products reduce the amount of harsh chemicals that are rinsed down the drain and into the water supply, Kincaid says.

Using green products also can be a selling point for members.

“The environmental responsibility that the clubs take is becoming more and more important to members in their own daily lives," Kincaid says. “They"re becoming more educated and aware. If they"re putting down a significant amount of money for a health club, they want that health club to reflect their values as well."

For Healthworks Fitness for Women, Boston, the effort to go green began in 2007 as an extension of the company"s emphasis on the community and a way to differentiate the facilities. Healthworks eliminated paper towels and installed hand dryers. It also began using green cleaning products and switched to LED lighting, says Mark Harrington Jr., executive director of Healthworks. The decision to go green helped more than members and the environment, he says.

“Not only has it been good for our corporate image, but it"s also been helpful for the utilities," Harrington says. “It"s very easy to continue doing what you always do. It"s important just to take a look and evaluate the full impact. I think our CFO was surprised at some cost savings we could realize for doing something that was also good. It"s kind of a win-win situation."


Cafes that Create Cash Flow in Your Health Club

By: Christa Plaza, AIA - September 1, 2012  |  Originally published at

Do you ever wonder why Starbucks is so successful? Well, obviously the company serves great coffee, but so do a lot of other coffee shops. Starbucks is successful because it was the first coffee company to offer a social atmosphere with soft seating, mood lighting and music that keeps people coming back for more and makes for profitable café space.

When adding a café to your fitness facility, you should take a cue from Starbucks. The following are five elements you must consider to make your café successful:

Location. Your café should be located toward the front entry of your facility because that places the café in the highest traffic area of the club, giving it the best exposure to members.

Clientele. The type of members your fitness facility attracts plays a role in the design of the space. To support a variety of customers, you need to provide different types of seating for different activities. For computer junkies, you need tables and chairs with plenty of space for their computers and notes. For social butterflies, soft seating arrangements create a nice lounging space for conversation. And for workout enthusiasts who need to eat and run, stools with a countertop provide a quick in-and-out option.

Amenities. Depending on the level of service of a club, the amenities you offer may be different. A lower-budget club might offer vending machines with healthy food options and pre-packaged foods, which keeps the design and construction costs of the kitchen down. Mid-level clubs might offer a smoothie bar and a small menu of food options for members. At a full-service club, the café could provide a full menu of healthy food options that are prepared fresh. Do not forget to carefully look at the members at your club to determine what will support their café needs.

Wireless access is a must in any café today. Creating a cyber lounge where people can connect via the Internet or in person also will attract more people to your café. Another café amenity is a TV, which can show music videos, news or stock market updates, depending on your members. A TV can help keep your members there. Private meeting rooms also are valuable offerings in mid- to higher-range clubs and can be rented out for a small fee.


Design Essentials for Creating a Successful Spa Business in Your Health Club

Design Essentials for Creating a Successful Spa Business in Your Health Club

By: Christa Plaza, AIA - May 7, 2012  |  Originally published at

When people visit one of your spas, their worries should be forgotten and relaxation should set in. Places like the Qua Spa at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Spa Vital in Cherry Creek, CO, have captured this concept and delivered it to spa enthusiasts. These spas create a lasting memory through design and superior service, just as your spa should do. 

The following are some design essentials for creating a successful spa business in your health club:

Location. Has anyone ever told you that location is key? Well in this case, it is vitally important to have the spa entry easily accessible from the club entry. Whether you are trying to attract members from outside of the club or entice existing members to use your spa services, the spa must be one of the first things seen from the front entrance of the club.

Atmosphere. Upon entering through the spa doors, your clients should instantly feel a transition in mood and ambiance. This can be achieved with soft lighting, water walls and a soothing greeting from the staff. Changing the lighting to soft and indirect will help create a more relaxing atmosphere. The sound of water or nature sounds in the background are design elements that can enhance the atmosphere and help your clients" transition into a tranquil environment.

Also part of the transition is going from street clothing to the soft plush robe and moving into the relaxation room, which is a critical part of the spa program. This room could have running water, a tea bar, light, healthy snacks and more. This space provides a quiet waiting area where clients officially get into the spa mood. The Spa Vital has two wading pools at different temperatures, along with steam and sauna rooms to relax before or after your treatment. These features enhance the spa experience and create an ideal environment in which to escape.

Materials. The materials in the room must withstand the activities and services being performed within. For example, a wet treatment room typically should be all tile to become like one large shower space, so that water can get anywhere and maintenance is easy. Massage rooms that do not include water can be designed with materials that help with sound and ambiance. Because clients will be on their backs for some treatments, ceiling materials must also be considered in the design.