Aquatic Centre Project Management: insights from Rob McFee

Over the past summer, thousands of Australian adults and children escaped the heat and flocked to their nearest community pool.  Aquatic centres are not only a hub for communities in providing access to fitness and mixed leisure spaces but provide essential means for people of all ages to access general fitness, rehabilitation and potentially lifesaving learn to swim skills.

Rob McFee is Project Management/ Principal across Victoria, Tasmania and South Australian regions and has been leading the planning and development of aquatic facilities and other sporting facilities in both Public and Private sectors for more than thirty years.

Over the past number of years, Tetra Tech Coffey has led the delivery of several state-of-the-art Aquatic Centres in Victoria, reflecting the significant commitment from all levels of Government (Local, State & Federal) to investment in services and infrastructure across metropolitan and regional Victoria.

Here, Rob shares his four critical elements that play a key role in shaping these facilities.

Understanding the demographics is key

There’s a whole number of reasons why our client’s do Business Cases/ Feasibility Studies prior to commencing detailed design, and it often starts with looking at the demographics to understand what future demand will be. This also ensures what you are designing, and building will have longevity and meet the local community’s needs.

For instance, with some of the aquatic centres we have delivered, we worked with the demographers and planners as they look at an area. If there’s a lot of young families in a developing area, we are likely to install more family friendly features such as water slides and have a larger aqua play area. This is compared to, say a more established region, where a more mature demographic requires different facilities that cater to their needs such as larger warm water facilities, or larger gymnasiums.

On the Mornington Peninsula where we’ve recently finished the Yawa Aquatic Centre at Rosebud, research from Otium Planning Group revealed that the Peninsula has both an older and younger population. So right from the outset the facility was designed with an emphasis on accessibility and warm water activities such as aqua aerobics to support therapy and rehabilitation activities and on program pools and leisure water to support learn to swim and the family/social market.

Sustainability at the heart of the design and build

Aquatic centres use a large amount of energy and water so designing to the highest efficiency and water ratings is essential. In March 2021, we were proud to see the opening of the Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre (GRAC) in Traralgon, Victoria which provides health and fitness facilities for families across the region.

It was brilliant to see sustainable build practices incorporated into this facility, being the first public aquatic facility in Victoria to incorporate a deep bore geothermal heating system – tapping into an aquifer at a depth of more than 600 metres and using the 65-degree Celsius heat from the groundwater to warm the pool and reduce the need for boilers.

Bringing together everyone and take them on the journey

Facilities like these really become a vibrant hub for all members of the community. Right from the outset of any project, it is vital to establish and build strong relationships, not only with the client, but with the many community groups that have a vested interest in the facility. Learning to swim is such an important life skill and general fitness has also proven to keep people healthy and out of hospitals and medical clinics.

Maintaining open dialogue during the consultation phase is very important, as are regular updates and communications to ensure that everyone in the community feels part of the journey throughout the project delivery.

Sharing insights and lessons learnt

Working with a team like Tetra Tech Coffey, we bring with us the experience that we’ve learned as a team over many years and for us – we never stop learning.

After every project, we host a ‘lessons learned workshop’ with stakeholders from the design and build phases. It brings together representatives from the client, government, community representatives, architects and builders. These projects are long in duration (up to five years) so we are constantly building our understanding of projects that we can bring to our clients now, and in the future.

Going on that long term journey obviously has its ups and downs along the way, but we’ve been fortunate enough to do so with many of our clients, and seeing a magnificent facility go from lines on a drawing to reality is an amazing privilege.

One the best parts of my role is going back to a completed job and seeing children playing on the waterslide, undertaking learn to swim classes, seeing people using rehabilitation facilities or just swimming laps in the training lanes of the pool – it really is a rewarding aspect of my job.

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