Engineering Aquatic Centres

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
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Across Australia there has been renewed interest in providing and upgrading sporting facilities, and aquatic centres in particular.

At the heart of this resurgence is a new found appreciation of how, if done well, these facilities can contribute to enhancing a community’s pride by providing a hub of activity, as well as contributing to community health, well-being and fitness.

Aquatic centres come with a set of very unique challenges. Indeed, it has been said that swimming pool halls are perhaps one of the most aggressive environments that traditional building materials can be exposed to.

“It is important to understand the life cycle of an aquatic centre,” said Rennie Darmanin, Discipline Leader – Structures at Meinhardt. “Pool halls are typically used well beyond their nominal design life of 50 years, so understanding the challenge of future proofing recreational facilities for rapidly changing technologies associated with water treatment, energy usage and temperature control of both air and water, means investing in a durable and low maintenance structure that will last the distance.”

Optimal future-ready solutions need to be designed to respond to changing patronage patterns and must be able to maintain interest in the facility while addressing cost constraints.

At Griffith University Aquatic Centre, for example, each of the three pools has been uniquely designed with a different aquatic experience in mind and are temperature controlled all year round.


The Redcliffe Aquatic Centre boasts an array of features such as ramp access for disabled or people undergoing rehabilitation, a beach entry to engage with kids of all ages, gently declining steps to assist people with mobility issues; a traditional ladder entry, as well as hoist and ledge seating to facilitate every need.

Technically, these can also be complex projects from both a structural and services perspective.

“For example, we look to minimise the use of open structural steel members to reduce the likelihood of moisture sitting on surfaces in the harsh environment (heat and moisture) that exists in the upper reaches of a pool hall,” said Darmanin. “Using galvanized rectangular hollow sections as purlins may have a higher capital cost, but, if properly detailed, will produce a more durable roof structure. The use of special purlins with downturn lips and heavy galvanizing coating can also provide a long term service.”

A common client requirement is the ability to open up the pool hall in hotter summer months. At Redcliffe, for example, the structure catered for large bi-fold shutters that could be opened along one side of the building to create an outdoor feel when weather permitted. This necessitated the surrounding wet deck and external pavements to be designed to complement each other and accentuate the indoor/outdoor feel when the bi-folds were open.


When it comes to air-conditioning, innovative solutions are required to stop moisture from the pool water from forming condensation on what are often predominantly glazed structures.

“It is important to specify air handling units which fully and autonomously regulate microclimatic conditions within the swimming pool area,” said Glen Pederick, National Leader – Building Services at Meinhardt. “In addition to this, choices need to consider solutions which provide for maximum utilisation of the heat energy embedded in the exhaust air. Instead of losing this energy to the outside environment, it can be used for heating the swimming pool water. This can contribute significant energy savings and result in economic running and operation during usage.”

In delivering a community project, there is also increased emphasis on the importance of timely delivery of a new facility. Often this is complicated by a need to maintain continuity of existing service delivery.

Aquatic Centre projects have multi-stakeholder requirements to consider, a client who needs a cost-effective solution, a service or program provider that wants no disruption to their business, a community which wants the highest quality facilities, an architect who has a vision that needs realising, and a contractor who needs to deliver to programme and on budget.

Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre

The extensive redevelopment of the Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre, which has recently opened, initially involved new works at the nearby Kew Aquatic Centre. This allowed the fitness programs located at Hawthorn to be transferred to Kew for the duration of the redevelopment. In this way, the attrition of members moving to another fitness provider was minimised.

The Hawthorn redevelopment involved the demolition of the previous Aquatic Centre superstructure, bulk excavation works for new 50-metre and 20-metre pools, as well as construction activities associated with the new four-level recreational facility.


One of the innovative solutions developed by the design team was a structural design which allowed for the retention of the existing pool shell as a basement level. This meant large amounts of plant equipment associated with the pools did not require additional new structure. This saved the client money by minimising demolition and removal costs, and it substantially shortened the construction program to everyone’s advantage.

Working in collaboration with the builder, a further refinement to the design was the implementation of a driven pile solution instead of the original bored pier solution. This further reduced the need to remove spoil from the site.

However, the proposal had the potential to cause significant vibrations and possible cracking to surrounding high value residential buildings. Clear communication and a detailed risk analysis process ensured the builder was fully aware of all eventualities before proceeding. Drilling procedures and predicted vibration levels were investigated and extensive due diligence inspections were undertaken. The outcome was significant cost and time savings.

The entire design process was undertaken using Building Information Modelling (BIM). Extensive collaboration and co-ordination between the members of the design team at the outset set project protocols and parameters, culminating in a BIM Implementation Plan. This enabled the project to be delivered to the highest possible standard.


The large span roof was designed as an exposed steel structure. Modelling and rendering in BIM meant both the architect and client were able to visualize exactly what being underneath the roof would be like, to ensure that their vision and expectations were met.

BIM also assisted in clearly showing where the vast amount of mechanical ductwork was going to be positioned to ensure no clashes would occur in relation to the structure.

Pool Concourse Guidelines

Finally, it is worth mentioning the safety of pool concourses, which is a major issue for all operators.

A range of industry consultants have recently worked with Aquatics & Recreation Victoria (ARV) to help produce the Pool Concourse Guidelines document.

The aim is to elevate the understanding of the industry and facility owners in maximising the appropriate performance of a concourse and hence minimising slips and falls. This includes managing pressure on the construction program, concourse design, construction finishes, safety obligations, workmanship, concourse surface selection, the role and responsibilities of the supervising architect, design tolerances, cleaning, maintenance and operational management requirements, among other considerations.

A copy of these guidelines can be downloaded from the ARV website.

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