Lap pool or lazy river?
In the proposed Mt. Crested Butte Aquatic Recreation Center, should there be a six-lane lap pool or a play pool with two water slides and a lazy river—or both?
Mt. Crested Butte planning consultant Jeff Woods says recreation centers are challenging to design for an audience that includes both tourists and locals. Recreation centers are important for resort growth and many ski areas and resort towns are currently building them, or already have one, he says.
“At ski areas, it’s a major economic generator,” Woods said. “While we’re doing it for locals as an amenity, it’s also a big part of resort planning.”
Mt. Crested Butte has been working for almost a year on the preliminary design and programming of the aquatic recreation center. The Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is a special taxing entity responsible for designing and financing the construction of the recreation center.
Last fall the DDA hired an architect working on the plans for Mountaineer Square North to sketch a building footprint for an idea of what could fit in the town’s 44,000-square-foot development rights on the recreation center parcel.
In February 2008, the DDA’s preliminary design included a play pool with two slides, a six-lane lap pool, space for cardiovascular fitness equipment and free weights, an aerobics room, a climbing wall, meeting and activity rooms, a child care room, spa rooms, an adult hot tub, locker rooms and a lobby. That building, minus additional square footage needed for mechanical equipment, was a little over 33,000 square feet.
Woods said Mt. Crested Butte was still at the beginning of the planning process, with the first step getting the community to agree on what should be in it. Once that is done, Woods said, it would be easier to find financial partners to support the construction and operation of the facility.
Woods and his wife, Julie Ann, own Elk Mountain Planning Group, a consulting firm that works primarily in the Roaring Fork and East River valleys and has been employed in Mt. Crested Butte for a number of projects, including the design of a recreation path extension, Mountaineer Square North, and the aquatic recreation center. Jeff Woods was involved in the design and construction of the Aspen Recreation Center, which took four years from the start of planning to find the money and finish construction he said.
In Aspen, he said, “We didn’t have the money, but we had enthusiasm and that can go a long way.”
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick says the DDA’s bonding capacity and tax increment financing structure should be able to cover the cost of designing and building the $15 million-plus recreation center. The most important part for the town to consider, he said, was getting the right combination of features to attract people and make enough revenue to keep the facility running.
Julie Ann Woods said Mt. Crested Butte’s recreation center had a unique location in the center of proposed base area expansion and should be designed accordingly. After the DDA settles on what amenities should be included in the design, she said, the town could proceed to the next step and hire an architect and engineer to create building schematics.
With that said, the DDA, members of the Mt. Crested Butte Planning Commission, Town Council and town staff, and several community members had an open discussion about which features to include.
DDA board member Al Smith asked the consultants to consider if there were things in the DDA’s preliminary design that shouldn’t be included, or things that were missing.
Jeff Woods said the play pool was the most important for revenue. He said, “There’s not a lot of proponents for leisure pools locally, but this is where 95 percent of the dollars at a rec center come from… the hundreds of kids and parents and tourists using (the play pool) daily.” Even with plenty to do outside, people will always flock to the play pool, he said. “Powder days that we think are the greatest days to make some turns are not the greatest days if you say ‘I’m not a good skier, I’m not having fun.’ Then this is what you do,” Woods said.
DDA member Sara Morgan asked about a lap pool as an economic generator, because at swim meets people would come to use restaurants and hotels just for use of the pool, rather than specifically coming for the ski area, she said.
One of the factors the DDA has considered in previous meetings is how many lanes the lap pool should have, which makes a considerable difference in operational costs and space. Woods said to meet official regulations a lap pool needs at least six lanes.
Julie Ann Woods said it was also important to weigh community support for a lap pool. “It’s not all economics, it’s about community,” she said.
Jeff Woods said 95 percent of the play pool users would be tourists and 5 percent would be locals. For the lap pool, it was the other way around. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Woods said of the pool situation, also noting that for its limited use a lap pool costs quite a bit to operate. In Gunnison, he noted, the city’s proposed lap pool seems highly geared for local use, not tourists.
Smith asked about sauna and steam rooms. Woods advised against including a sauna and said saunas aren’t very popular—most people pour water on the rocks to make them steam rooms. He said for foreign guests steam rooms were especially popular.
Woods also made the suggestion of adding a lounge area with a fireplace or couches, providing a place for people to sit and watch the activity in the pool or fitness areas.
Mt. Crested Butte resident Bob Goettge asked about the possibility of adding a Flow Rider, an artificial wave machine for surfing and wakeboarding.
Woods said that was a good idea that would not take much space. “People would come across large regions to use that facility,” he said, noting that Aspen was currently considering adding a Flow Rider to their recreation center.
Meridian Lake Park resident Melanie Rees felt the 6,000 square feet reserved for the cardio equipment was too much. “It seems huge. Instead of that I’d like to consider a therapy or rehab pool… maybe something physical therapists could partner on,” Rees said, referring to a wheelchair-accessible pool with rails.
Mt. Crested Butte planning staff members Bill Racek and Theresa Henry encouraged the DDA to pursue an energy-efficient design to save operational costs, including features such as solar water heaters and Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification. “For us being (environmental) leaders, that should be a major consideration at this level,” Henry said.
Racek agreed it was important for the DDA to consider energy efficiency before sending out a request for engineering proposals, “so you can gear your (request for proposals) to someone who could actually help with that, rather than get too married to the architecture already in front of you.”
Mt. Crested Butte resident Ken Lodovico thanked the DDA for their work on the proposed recreation center and asked what the price of admission would be and if there would be a separate fee structure for locals.
Woods said Aspen was using a two-tiered system for locals and tourists. That included a $15 general admission, $13 for local adults and $9 for local children. A year-long family pass for four costs about $1,000, he said, “which is pretty reasonable.”
DDA chairman Allen Cox thanked the Woods for their consulting work. “This has been so informative for us. We are learning a lot more and we’re learning about what’s possible,” he said.
After the meeting, Julie Ann Woods said with the key features nailed down engineers could begin calculating the cost to build and operate the DDA’s chosen amenities. “We want to see how much it’s going to be for us to keep everything. That’s our preference for a starting point,” she said. Once costs are established, she said, it would be easier to determine which features to keep or remove.
Fitzpatrick also commented after the meeting that town staff and the DDA had received good directions from the community on which way to proceed. He said the town would be hiring an architect and engineer sometime this summer.