Swimming pools are of high social importance

The bathing culture is strong in Germany, but attractive offers are still lacking in many cities and municipalities. The investments of the municipalities are still too low to offer visitors modern equipment or multifunctional concepts.

Relaxation, wellness and health are the focus today. Baths with traditional offers quickly lose their attraction and are operated uneconomically due to too few visitors.

In an interview, Dr. Stefan Kannewischer, President of the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS), comments on this and points out possible solutions.

All across Germany, municipalities are faced with a dilemma when it comes to public swimming pools. Despite increasing interest in swimming and the great demand for swimming pools, many municipal swimming pools are 40-50 years old, in need of renovation or can only be operated with the injection of additional funds.

According to Dr Kannewischer, there is no easy solution when it comes to the modernisation of German pools. In addition to his position with the IAKS, Dr Kannewischer is the managing director for a swimming pool consulting firm that also operates thermal spas in five German cities. The experience he has gathered in the swimming pool industry helps him understand the difficulties involved in bringing old pools up to current standards.

What does the landscape look like for German swimming pools?

‘Many communities are caught between their financial situation and the old pools which are, as a rule, being operated at a deficit of 50 percent or more. Many of these pools are outdoor pools dating back to the 1920s and indoor pools from the 1960s and 1970s. In short: We simply need better pools.

Some communities try to privatise their swimming pools. Unfortunately, we have already seen many of these public-private partnerships fail. Others have tried low-cost solutions like covering outdoor pools with inflatable tents in the colder months. But that is not a practical solution,’ says Dr Kannewischer.


Should we be pessimistic about the future of swimming pools?

‘At the moment, pools are seen as problematic but in general I don’t think there’s cause for pessimism. Swimming and bathing will always be popular and a good pool can be of great value to a local community. It is a place where children learn to swim, a sports facility and a social meeting place. But demand is changing and we have to adapt.’

An investigation of the regional market is needed

Dr Kannewischer believes that part of the solution is for communities to think more regionally and to look into the supply and demand for different swimming facilities in their region before making the decision to renovate an old pool or build a new one. In some regions, there are municipalities that share larger facilities or where one village is in charge of the indoor pool and another village is responsible for the outdoor pool.

How should owners and their advisors plan the projects?

‘The right approach to the project is essential. First of all, you have to study the market and the needs of the various users. If the neighbouring city has a leisure pool, then perhaps you should build a wellness spa instead. Only then can you put together the right team for planning, financing and operating the pool. Depending on the type of pool, the team will look very different. For example, in terms of experience, a private operator is better suited for a larger outdoor pool. Each pool is different. That is why we have to create a diverse swimming pool landscape,’ says Dr Kannewischer.

Two types of multifunctionality

The variety is not limited to the different types of pool. In its brochure entitled ‘Future Trends 2020’, the IAKS refers to the increasing significance of multifunctionality for sport and leisure facilities. This can be multifunctionality in terms of sport or a mixture of sport and non-sport facilities, where several different community functions can come together under one roof.

Could you give some examples of multifunctionality?

‘Because the water surface area is very expensive, a movable floor that changes the water depth makes great sense. That way, the same pool can be changed from a training pool for children into an exercise pool for older people. The pool can also be combined with cultural or health facilities. The Hebburn Central facility on the outskirts of Newcastle is a good example of this. On the way home from swimming, the children can also stop in at the library,’ says Dr Kannewischer.

Do you think that Covid-19 will have an impact on how we design/modernise swimming pools?

‘In general, public pools seem to be relatively safe facilities due to their high technical standards. The disinfection in the pool water treatment is normally sufficient to kill any viruses or bacteria. And operations under Covid-19 have proven the importance of high-performance ventilation with heat recovery. And that is already a given today in most pools,’ he says and adds:

‘The entrance halls and circulation areas will perhaps be designed more spaciously in the future, but on the whole pool experts do not expect significant changes in future pool design for the moment.’

Facts about IAKS

  • The International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS) was founded in 1965, with the goal of creating high-grade, functional and sustainable sports facilities worldwide.
  • IAKS is the only non-profit organization concerned globally with the subject of sports and leisure facility development.
  • IAKS identifies and promotes new trends for active living and facilitates the sharing of knowledge and ideas between architects, engineers, clients, designers, local authorities, technical and operative management, sports federations and clubs.
  • Read more at https://iaks.sport

Dr. Stefan Kannewischer, Honorary president of the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS).