Commentary | A lean and green pool for Piedmont

A series of community pool workshops kicks off this Tuesday to “advance the community through the conceptual design process that will result in an earth-friendly, state-of-the-art aquatic center”.  Earth-friendly — that’s a laudable if somewhat fuzzy objective so it will be important to define what that term means at the first workshop. There are more technical terms — LEED Zero, Net Zero Energy, Net Zero Carbon, “all electric” —  but to be earth-friendly, the underlying principle of any new facility has to be that it use no natural gas or less than that of the current pool.  

The current conceptual design conservatively indicates that the new facility will double the use of natural gas.  The proposed design increases pool size from 4700 square feet to 13,500 square feet and the pool house from 3000  square feet to 7000 square feet. The design does incorporate green technology but not enough to offset the need for natural gas. The aquatic facility is wedged into limited civic center space and the size of the new pools constrains the ability to incorporate additional green technology that would eliminate the use of natural gas.

The conceptual design was developed in 2017 after a series of meetings at the Recreation Commission. At these meetings, the major stakeholder groups — lap swimmers, PHS aquatic teams and the Recreation Department (representing the community) — laid out what they wanted and that is reflected in the larger pool area.  Many are familiar with the limitations of the old pool — lap swimmers and swim teams couldn’t use the pool at the same time and city Recreation programs ran up against lap swimmer needs. The conceptual design solves these limitations with the “stretch” design — a 25 yard x 42 meter pool with 10 lanes, a moveable bulkhead and a fixed 8-ft depth. Now, the bulkhead can be set for swimming (25 meter) or water polo (30 meter) while the remaining area used for lap swimming. Likewise, the City can use one side of the bulkhead and lap swimmers the other.

The problem with this design is that it overcompensates to accommodate the user groups. Rarely do all three groups use the pool at the same time and never over the course of a year.  For example, the swim teams use the pool 6 months of the year but the entire pool has to be heated the whole year to accommodate lap swimmers. The fixed 8-ft depth is not suitable for most beginning swimmer programs the Recreation Department runs. So whereas the old pool served all user groups (with some limitations), the new bigger pool is just for aquatics, accommodating fewer people with more water, and more importantly, more natural gas usage.

Instead, the new design should build off the current pool design that serves all user groups in one pool. Build a 25 yard by 42 meter pool with 30 meters of fixed 8 ft depth with the remaining area graded so beginning swimmers and families can use it. And are 10 lap lanes really needed?  With this “hybrid” design, the 3900 sq foot recreational pool could be downsized, requiring less energy to run and freeing up area within the facility for more green technology. An added benefit of a smaller recreational pool is that it could be specialized — some have expressed interest in a “hot” pool while others want a chlorine-free pool. These options might be viable with a smaller recreational pool.

The community pool workshops should be fun and challenging. The city has hired an excellent design and engineering firm to lead these sessions and refine the conceptual design. That design meets the need of current users and there’s lots of pressure to meet the summer of 2024 deadline for opening the new pool. But to be earth-friendly means taking a longer view. The city has a 2030 deadline of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and the city is not making enough progress towards this goal. With the right “lean and green” pool, the city can meet both deadlines.

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One thought on “Commentary | A lean and green pool for Piedmont

  1. Given the numerous headlines daily attributing multiple disasters to climate change – flood, fires, unusually hot weather, etc – having a net zero climate friendly pool is essential. Piedmont normally strives to be in the forefront. A reduction in the overly generous pool sizes may be burdensome on individual user groups that want essentially private use but that luxury appears to be one we and our planet cannot afford. I am hopeful that there will be compromises so that sufficient space will be available, beyond the building roof, for solar panel and other necessary equipment for heating the pool that does not rely on natural gas. Simply having an LEED energy efficient building does not address the enormous energy use of heating the water for the new pools that are about 250% more in volume then the old pool.

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