This is one of those letters that if I said it all out-loud it would probably include a lot of cussing.

I’m mad, irritated, upset, confused, and sad at the blatant and ongoing disrespect for safety and consideration for operators when designing, proposing, installing, building, engineering swimming pools and aquatic facilities.  We have visited hundreds, if not thousands, of aquatic facilities, many new, that have been carelessly designed and built.  I am over it.  This is ridiculous, it has caused operators endless headaches, it has cost lives, and it needs to change. 

The beautiful 40 foot windows you designed to bring the outdoors in all around the facility and that look glorious with no window shades or consideration for glare…straight stupid. 

The non-white pool bottom that you pitched for an aquatics play area that makes it harder to identify people, things, objects on the bottom…brilliant.

The gutters right at the edge of the pool that don’t allow a lifeguard stand to be placed directly at the edge creating blindspots directly below the stand….eye roll. 

The hot tubs with not enough deck space to be able to fence or barrier off…amazing.

The interior windows to gym or lobby spaces that provide additional glorious florescent lighting and additional glare on the pool deck…really.

The general lack of consideration for storage, so everything has to be stored on deck…awesome.

The walls in the middle of the pool to separate different areas or create ramps that limit lifeguard positioning…thank you. 

The subpar lighting installed that creates dark and light areas in the facility…wonderful.

The paint color choices and reflective glass that allow for duplication as reflection into the pool…appreciate it. 

The limited deck space that can’t fit a standard lifeguard chair or no room to walk around…outstanding.

The terrible acoustics that are so bad I have to yell when someone is standing next to me…my ears thank you.

The river / current area with limited sight lines and no space for lifeguard positioning…lovely.

The blind spots created by awesome stair or feature placement…glorious.

The curvy angles of an attraction / pool that look so modern and trendy but create the need for more staff…stop me if you’ve seen it.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I’m mad and frustrated, and I keep seeing more and more challenging facilities being built without any care for safety and operations.  I just can’t anymore. I am challenged to help operators on a weekly basis who have been dealt a crummy hand from aquatic designers, builders, and engineers.  They are good people who now have to deal with how they can keep people and members safe at a cost that wont shut them down.  They have to add lifeguard positions, they have to have lifeguards rove instead of be in a seated position, modify lifeguard stands so they work, they have to spend money on window shades or re-painting or re-plastering, cosmetic changes, additional storage, and sometimes even reduce operating hours based on the conditions.

I understand, designer extraordinaire, that you want to build amazing facilities, that you want to add to your book of business, that you want to make a profit, that you want to design projects that have never been done before. But, it is a crying shame that most often you design it, build it, turn it over to operators, and walk away with no future consideration or accountability for the problems and challenges you created.  I know you have budgets to work within, and I know you have to answer to the people and executives that are paying for your services, but I also believe firmly that it is your responsibility to educate and strongly recommend appropriate safety features and consider operating impacts as you do your business. 

It is completely stupid, ridiculous, absurd, and not-fair that operators have so many challenges to overcome just to meet baseline safety standards.  All created by you for the aesthetics of making something look cool, or look different, saving some initial money, making something easier, or adding a different feature.  The sad thing is many operators don’t know better, many executives make decisions based on what designers, builders, engineers recommend without knowing the consequences and troubles they will face once the facility opens. 

I know many hard working aquatics professionals that were set up to fail, who have mountains of challenges to overcome, and who it is too late for them to impact any positive changes because the fate has already been delivered to them by the design, build, engineering team.  They now have to deal with it.

My goal of this open letter is to bring awareness to these issues and to bring support to operators who haven’t had a voice.  They work tirelessly on a daily basis to make decisions with safety in mind, and are most often criticized for their financial impact in responding to these unfortunate design decisions. 

I don’t think design firms are purposely making poor safety decisions, but I don’t think they are purposely trying to learn and not make the same mistakes. Maybe designers, builders, engineers should consult real safety experts and be held accountable to educate their clients on the impact of certain decisions….you want those glorious windows?…no problem, but it will probably add an additional labor spot to your lifeguard team, or we really recommend black out window shades…you need a ramp?…great, we recommend an open railing instead of a wall so the lifeguard will be able to see all areas of the pool and you won’t have to add mirrors or additional lifeguards…You want a river, no problem, but we recommend additional deck / concrete areas so lifeguards can guard and rotate efficiently. 

I also think operators need a place to turn, someone to help educate them.  Operators need to know there are people in our industry that can provide feedback, and should, very early into the process of a new design or a remodel / rebuild.  I’m sure operators would rather invest a little capital before they start a project knowing ‘eyes wide open’ what they are getting into, rather than opening a new pool or attraction only to discover it costs double or triple to operate than what they planned for.

Let’s bring awareness to these issues, let’s support those who are dealing with safety features in these facilities, let’s share this to those who are currently working on a new or existing project, and let’s work on impacting this process so we can save lives and operate more safely and more efficiently moving forward! 

-Natalie Livingston