Across Germany, municipalities are faced with a bit of a swimming pool dilemma. Despite an increase in interest for sports swimming and a strong demand for good swimming pools, many municipal pools are 40-50 years old, in need of renovation and only able to operate due to significant subsidies to their entrance fees.
According to Dr. Stefan Kannewischer, honorary president of the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS), there is no simple solution to modernize the German swimming pools. Besides his role in IAKS, Dr. Stefan Kannewischer manages a pool engineering and consulting company, which also operates thermal baths in five German cities. With his extensive experience from the swimming pool market, he understands the difficulties involved in bringing the outdated pools up to modern standards.
– Many municipalities are trapped between their financial situation and aging pools, which normally operate at a 50 percent deficit or higher. Many of these pools have outdoor pools from the 1920’s and indoor pools from the 60’s and 70’s. So, we need better pools. Some municipalities have tried to privatize their pools, and we have seen several of these public-private partnerships fail. Others have tried cheap solutions, like covering outdoor pools with inflatable tents in the colder seasons, but this is obviously not a viable solution, says Dr. Stefan Kannewischer.
Focus on the value of pools
Despite the challenges, Dr. Stefan Kannewischer urges mayors and municipalities to remain optimistic about swimming pools and the value they bring to a community.
– At the moment, swimming pools are perceived as a problem area, but in general, we should not be pessimistic. Swimming and bathing will remain popular and a good swimming pool can bring great value for the local society. Both as a place where kids learn to swim, a sports facility and a social gathering place. But the demand changes, and we must adapt to that.
Examine the regional market
Part of the solution, according to Dr. Stefan Kannewischer, is for the municipalities to adopt a more regional thinking and to carefully consider the supply and demand for different types of swimming facilities in a local area before deciding to renovate or build new pools. In some regions, several municipalities have decided to share larger facilities or have one city operate an indoor pool and the other an outdoor.
– The right project approach is essential. First, you need to examine the market and the needs of the different types of users. If the neighboring city has a fun pool, maybe you should build a wellness spa. Only then can you pick the right team for planning, financing and operating the pool. Depending on the type of pool, the team is very different, for instance with a larger leisure pool, a private operator is usually better. Every pool is different, and we need to build a diverse pool landscape, says Dr. Stefan Kannewischer.
Two types of multifunctionality
The diversity is not only limited to different types of swimming pools. In their publication “IAKS Future Trends 2020”, IAKS points to the growing importance in multifunctionality for sports and leisure facilities. This can both take the form of sporting multifunctionality or a mix between sporting and non-sporting facilities, where several different community functions are gathered in the same space.
– The water surface is very expensive, so you can for instance alter the depth with a movable floor to transform the same pool from a children’s training pool to an exercise pool for the elderly. The swimming pool can also be combined with cultural or health care facilities. I saw a good example of this in Hebburn Central on the outskirts of Newcastle, where kids pass through the local library on their way home from swimming practice, says Dr. Stefan Kannewischer.