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Waterparks have been showing a steady increase in demand over the past decade. Children of all ages are drawn to the fun and excitement that a playground on water can provide. In order to stay current with the needs of clients, Landscape Architects should understand the importance of designing for these specialized atmospheres. When Doug Goff, the general manager of Sienna Plantation, contacted TBG Partners, Inc. regarding the development of a recreation center for the 10,500-acre master-planned community, the request became an interesting challenge for our 15 year-old firm. Little did we know that it would revolutionize the concept of community amenities for new and existing residential developments within a few short years. During the planning stages, Club Sienna evolved from a traditional recreation center into a 12-acre entertainment complex with the South's largest water adventure park, eight lighted tennis courts, a half-acre children's playground, a sand volleyball court, a 7,500-square-foot southern plantation-style community center and a lakeside amphitheater for concerts and the performing arts that accommodates 5,000 people. In addition, a second waterpark is being planned with a completely different concept that, as Goff describes it, will be "a totally new venture in recreational entertainment." Southern Style Since Club Sienna's April, 2000 debut, we have been asked to design six community waterparks in the Houston area alone, and the trend continues to gain momentum in Sunbelt states from Georgia to California, despite the creative, engineering and financial challenges inherent in such a project. Elaborate community waterparks with features ranging from zero-entry spray grounds and intricate slides to spill buckets and lazy rivers are on the drawing board, if not already implemented. The waterparks do not replace traditional amenities such as trails, greenbelts, lakes and golf courses, which continue to drive community traffic and sales. Since the advent of Club Sienna, however, waterparks have become an almost necessary addition to a master-planned community's package of amenities, as ordinary pools pale in comparison to the resort-style setting of Sienna's two-year-old facility. The Johnson Development Corporation, which is developing Sienna Plantation, plans to include similar waterparks in two of its newest projects, Fall Creek, a 1,261-acre community in northeast Houston, and Riverstone, a 2,800-acre Fort Bend County community just 10 minutes west of Sienna on Highway 6. In an effort to offer recreational amenities at the neighborhood level, The Woodlands, a 27,000-acre community 27 miles north of downtown Houston, is adding three waterparks and renovating Ridgewood Park, an older facility. The community's first waterpark, launched in Harper's Landing two years ago, features a spray ground with fountains and animal-themed structures. Based on its popularity, The Woodlands recently opened Windvale Park, which offers a swimming pool with a large play structure and a jogging track, and Forestgate Park, which includes a swimming pool with a circular water slide and a separate wading pool. Later this summer, The Woodlands will open a park in Carlton Woods. Residents have a choice of buying season passes or paying daily admission for the parks. Terrabrook Houston, another developer, is including waterpark projects in Eagle Springs, a 1,360-acre site near Lake Houston, Greatwood, a 2,050-acre project in southwest Houston and Cinco Ranch, a 5,400-acre community in west Houston. In addition, Newland Communities will open a waterpark in Summerwood, a 1200-acre development in northeast Houston. Rewarding the Spectacular These developers believe the challenges in constructing such major amenities are balanced by the rewards, such as increased sales and higher resident satisfaction levels. "We are not simply in the business of developing places where homes will be built," said Goff. "Because of their suburban locations, master-planned communities strive to create an environment that is more than a series of neighborhoods. The idea of living in a destination resort is very attractive to today's discriminating, time-challenged homeowners, who are willing to trade close-in convenience for amenities that are rarely, if ever, found in urban venues. In essence, suburban communities become a primary source of entertainment as well as a social, cultural and recreational center for their residents." Some additional staff members maybe required to maintain these new activity oriented communities. "While facilities are quite important, the true success and fulfillment of the destination resort concept depends upon programming, which is why, at Club Sienna, we have a full-time activities director and numerous instructors available to institute activities ranging from fitness training and swimming and diving lessons to health fairs, concerts and holiday events," explained Goff. "All of these activities, in turn, give residents a sense of pride in the community and provide them with a variety of opportunities to meet their neighbors and developlifelong friendships." Residential association dues cover the upkeep of Club Sienna. Residents do not pay additional fees to enjoy the waterpark, fitness center or free community events including concerts at the lakeside amphitheater, annual spring and fall festivals and traditional and non-traditional celebrations held at Mardi Gras, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Bill Odle, a TBG principal who lives in Sienna, says that he and his wife can enjoy non-stop activities over a weekend without ever leaving the community. "There are many weekends when we play golf and tennis, have dinner at the grill, relax at the waterpark, attend a concert at the community amphitheater, and work out at the fitness center," said Odle. "And the great thing about Sienna is that you don't have to have children to enjoy the waterpark and all of the other attractions." Facing the Design Challenges Typically, developers include a pool for every 700 homes in a community. And historically, the pool has served the community swim team and Sunbelt families who gather from April to September with children and friends. A junior Olympic pool meets the needs of swim teams, but it's a static facility that doesn't address the needs of families with children who are used to being entertained. With a competition pool and a water playscape that provides a series of different experiences, developers address a larger percentage of the home-buying market and accelerate sales. The traditional pool is designed in linear fashion, using depth to segregate users. Interactivity is the key to designing a waterpark that will serve a range of users, and yet the competition pool and the resort-style pool are at cross-purposes. The Club Sienna waterpark offers an abundance of pool area as well as ample deck and green space. If the competition pool and the resort-style pool were placed end-to-end, the span would be close to the length of a football field. Initially, the competition pool and the large, shallow, resort-style pool at Club Sienna were to be connected. However, as the design unfolded, it became apparent that the structure of the shell would be compromised in that scenario. At the juncture of the two pools, the water level would jump from five to 14 feet. It would be extremely difficult to prevent cracking and leakage over the long term because deep and shallow pools expand and contract at varying rates, especially in Houston's clay soil. Soil conditions, structural and hydraulics issues, and technical complications in terms of water quality turnover rates demanded that the two facilities be completed as separate, but visually connected entities. From every view, the Club Sienna waterpark is perceived as one large pool with eye-pleasing loops and coves, and even a lagoon for adults, where they can supervise their children without being in the thick of the action. The competition pool is fast, smooth and designed for the serious competitive swimmer. The pool has eight lanes with stainless steel racing gutters to reduce splash and avoid wave action, plus a diving well with three boards ranging from one to three meters in height. Very few communities offer a facility comparable to an NCAA swim complex -- and then top it off with a Disney-inspired water playground with features and activities for a variety of age groups. The resort-style pool includes a zero-entry spray ground, a water tower with over 200 feet of slides, a 1,200-square-foot "waterworks" play system with a giant spill bucket and several interactive amusement areas. All of the waterpark facilities, including the slide towers, shade structures, trellises and even the equipment building reflect the distinctive architectural theme of Sienna Plantation. While interactivity is a key component of waterparks, it also creates a new set of concerns for developers. Enhanced safety measures increase operating costs. There are additional personnel fees, since more lifeguards are required for a waterpark than for a traditional pool. Insurance, utilities and facilities maintenance factor into the equation as well. These additional costs, however, are offset by the benefits -- to the developer and to community residents. "Club Sienna has brought a new dimension to the mix of recreational amenities that communities typically offered in the past," said Goff. "Quite honestly, the facility has raised the bar and set a new standard for communities to follow in the future. The project has definitely enhanced our marketing capabilities and become one of our strongest selling points." About the Author: Earl Broussard is the owner of TBG Partners, Inc., located in Austin, Texas.

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June 18, 2019, 6:32 pm PDT

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