May 9, 2019
By Mike Fowler
There is a growing trend among athletic aquatic facilities to install ‘green’ or eco-friendly pool equipment designed specifically to lower operating costs by reducing energy consumption. Pool pump rooms are among the most scrutinized areas when facilities undergo energy audits due to the sheer amount of electricity consumed by pumps, filters, and other equipment. When updating its aquatic centre, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), not only wanted to redesign the facility to better serve the needs of its members, but also wanted to use the most energy-efficient equipment to control operating costs.
With the explosion of student recreation centres about 10 years ago, these facilities became architecturally more attractive, showcasing amenities to attract new students. The importance of mental and emotional health along with physical health was repeatedly highlighted. This awareness transformed old-school gyms with weights and tracks into all-encompassing wellness facilities with social centres, dieticians, and counsellors, and as spaces for physical activity. It was then that UNCG, like many universities, needed to improve its student recreation and wellness centres.
In the case of UNCG, there was a student-led referendum and bond for creating the Kaplan Center for Wellness. While RDG Planning & Design was the architect on the project, Aquatic Design Group (ADG) worked closely with the team to create a space that met the university’s criteria. Paddock Pools was recruited as the contractor for building the pools.
The final result was an indoor aquatic facility, with large windows comprising two bodies of water—
a large, 25-m (82-ft) pool for lap swimming and other aquatic activities and a second leisure pool, which offers many unique social features desired by the student community.
As the university does not have a swim team, the centre did not need a typical competitive pool. In lieu of a regulatory competitive aquatic facility, a 7.6- x 7.6-m (25- x 25-ft), eight-lane pool was built, which allows lap swimming as well as kayaking, scuba, and paddleboarding courses. In addition, the space doubles as a facility that can be rented out for grade-school and high-school swim meets, thus providing additional income for the centre while also actively engaging the community within the university.
Students wanted the pool to embody a resort-like aquatic facility, thus the leisure pool was designed with typical features, such as a 200-mm (8-in.) water ledge where swimmers can lounge, but still work on their tablets or mobile devices.
“In addition, we included a vortex feature—
a semi-circle where the water moves around, creating a current for bathers to walk against.” said ADG’s principal and aquatic consultant on the project, Justin Caron.
The feature is unique because the vortex can be turned on or off as desired. This allows bathers to indulge in some physical therapy when walking against the current. When the feature is off, the area remains a calm, shallow pool where people can relax.
A bench seat was added to the design, which faces a large, 3- x 6-m (10- x 20-ft) video board where movies and sports are shown. The display also features school announcements and doubles as a score board when the university hosts local community swim meets.
A basketball hoop and volleyball net also add to
The pool also has an accessible beach entry designed with curves, partly due to a lack of deck space. The entry allows people with mobility issues, injury, or those who want to enter the pool slowly, to access the water with greater ease.
The original design of the pool was larger than its actual size. However, due to budget constraints, the plan was revised from four lanes down to two, which reduced the project cost by nearly $1million. In the end, the two lanes proved to be more than adequate for the university community.
On this particular project, the pump room was placed beneath the pools; this was done specifically to save energy. Pumps are effective in pushing water up, but poor at pulling it down. Therefore, designing the room right below the pool, allowed water to flow downwards using gravity rather than power. By using this type of system, known as a flooded suction pump design, the facility is able to reduce its energy consumption by more than 50 per cent when compared to a self-priming pump system.
The energy-and-water-efficient equipment used in the pump room contributed to the aquatic facility’s gold LEED rating.
As is the case with all new aquatic centres, the equipment selected to operate the pools is key to the long-term success of a facility. ADG adhered to specific criteria for evaluating each piece of equipment to be installed in the pump room. Its main considerations were:
To reduce energy consumption by the pools and lower operating costs, Paddock installed specific ‘green’ products, which included a stainless steel gutter system and a high-efficiency air-quality handling system. Some of the other products were:
The variable-frequency drive (VFD) used in the project was designed specifically to save energy and lower operating costs by increasing pump performance, which resulted in reducing nearly 60 per cent of its electricity usage. The product allows the system to ramp up to full speed during the day when the pool reaches its peak bather loads. At night, when the pool is not in use, the drive slows down the pump to continue filtration. The VFD units have a minimal payback time as they optimize energy automatically, and also offer a built-in display to show the remaining time until the drive pays for itself. The units eliminate spikes to lower energy consumption and allow the pump motors to run smoothly; this reduces any wear and tear associated with starting and stopping the equipment and ensures longevity.
In addition to the VFDs, two sand-filter systems were installed at the facility. The large pool has a system comprising three tanks, while the leisure pool has a separate two-tank system. These tanks have an integrated automatic backwash control system that makes them highly energy efficient. The filters are easy to maintain because they have a modular design that allows for influent and effluent placement to meet any design requirement. The units, which occupy only one-fourth of the pump room, are an ideal choice for the tight space. The viewport on the front allows for better monitoring and maintenance as these filters provide a quick, visual observation of the sand bed during filtration. This reduces the facility’s energy usage as dirty filters can nearly double the pump’s electricity consumption.
Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting is an essential constituent of any eco-friendly project. The facility installed specific LEDs that use 89 per cent less electricity when compared to incandescent and halogen pool lights. Not only does the technology significantly lower electrical bills, it also requires less maintenance as the bulbs need to be changed less frequently, which adds to additional savings for the aquatic facility.
Mike Fowler is a commercial sales manager for Pentair in Sanford, N.C. He has been with the company since 1992, starting his career in the technical services department at Purex Pool Products. Fowler has held many managerial roles within the company, including marketing, trade show manager, and account manager. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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