Located in the heart of Westerville, Ohio, the Highlands Park Family Aquatic Center is a complete replacement of an existing 30-year-old facility. Stemming from a master plan of the entire park, the Aquatic Center sits adjacent to protected wetlands, an active soccer field complex and with a traditional residential neighborhood. With 650,000 gallons of water, the amenities include an eight lane competition pool with diving well, a large leisure pool, a zero entry toddler pool, small and large spray grounds, a lazy river and two 30 foot water slides. The four main structures on site include the main entry administration building, bathing house, concession stand and a pool mechanical building.
Portions of the project are pursuing LEED certification. The sustainable design strategy utilizes rain water management, green roofs, rain gardens, natural building ventilation, LED lighting, low flow plumbing fixtures, recycled / renewable building materials, bioswales and pervious concrete parking. The project is designed to fit within its natural environment. The use of wood, stone & rock, and natural water features with intuitive landscaping elements not only create a natural backdrop for the pool amenities, but also blend the project into its surroundings.
In 2009, as part of a master plan for Highlands Park, the City of Westerville decided to replace its declining, 30-year-old municipal pool facility. The former center suffered from not only deterioration of its buildings and infrastructure, but also from a constrained layout of its amenities and poor relationships between its different functions. Safety for its patrons was a major concern.
The new Highlands Park Family Aquatics Center sought to re-energize the facility with a thoughtful design based on connection with the natural environment, increased amenities and sustainability. Instead of the traditional municipal layout of rectangular pools, organic curving shapes were developed in conjunction with an analysis of flow patterns between uses to create functional meandering within the site. These shapes also helped to create larger deck spaces between the different pool functions, creating a safer environment for those using the facility.
With its adjacency to protected wetlands, developing the Center with a strong sustainable approach was imperative. The landscape has an impressive site water management strategy which involves diverting all of the storm runoff to a new rain garden, which in turn moves the water to a large retention pond. The retention pond slowly filters the water and returns it to the surrounding wetlands. Parking lots were done in pervious concrete, with bioswales incorporated. Crushed concrete from the previous pool decks was recycled and used as part of the foundation to stabilize the new access roads to the lots.
The new Aquatic Center was envisioned not only as a recreational facility, but also as an educational nature center for the community. Throughout the complex, informational signage indicates types of plants and wildlife in the surrounding ecosystem, as well as the sustainable features of the project. The main entry to the Center is a series of boardwalks that carries patrons over the rain gardens and allows them to experience and understand how the building operates within the natural environment.
The shapes and materials of the buildings within the complex identify different uses and functions. High activity areas where large groups may gather enjoy cover under the expansive roof forms. Areas that have smaller scale interaction, such as admission and concession windows, express themselves as smaller pavilions with fabric shade structures.
A consistent palette is used throughout the complex – materials such as stone, wood and canvas contribute to a balance of both solid and airy elements, while planting beds create soft interstitial spaces between walkways. All the heavy timber used in the complex is FSC Certified wood, in an effort to be responsible about the harvesting of natural materials for the project.
With a variety of different use pools, the Aquatic Center contains 650,000 gallons of water, and requires a significant amount of large equipment to keep up with the daily filtration needs. The 2,600 square foot pool mechanical building sits at the south end of the site, clad in stone, with its multiple roof top units concealed by a wood slat screen wall.
The main buildings at the entrance of the complex serve a variety of functions, including check-in, lockers, first-aid and administrative needs. The buildings are designed to function seasonally, relying primarily on natural ventilation, with high efficiency HVAC only used as needed during the hotter months in the summer. The restroom building features efficient fixtures such as HET 1.28 gpf toilets, low flow faucets and high speed hand dryers to reduce waste.
An open floor plan creates an administrative building that is both spacious and flexible. Low walls permit natural daylight to infiltrate throughout the space – the glass is treated with UV protection to control heat gain, and varying degrees of transparency for privacy. Deep roofs and sun shades also help to control heat gain in the building.
The interior palette of the administrative building is a mixture of both the finished and the raw. Detailed cedar slat boxes with internally lit panels provide an interesting element to envelope staff lockers. At the same time, respect is given to the texture of materials in their natural state, with the exposed beams and ceiling giving the building a park-like feel.
Strong attention was paid to detailing and composition in the project – from how materials would intersect, to screw and reveal joint patterning. Materials were also used in innovative ways – speed rail was used not only as the guardrail system throughout the project, but was also fabricated into towel hook systems and bicycle racks.
The new Highlands Park Family Aquatic Center has had a profound impact on its surrounding community. Between the final year of the old complex in 2010 to the first summer of the new complex in 2011, the number of members skyrocketed from 800 to 8000. Its prime location within a residential park area, including proximity to three schools, makes the Center easily accessible and encourages neighborhood connectivity.