The Detail Behind the Design – Creating a New Community Pool


By Katie MacDonald, PE

When most people see an image like the one above, hopefully they see a fun pool and a cool place to take their family in the summer. An engineer, however, tends to see all the thought that went into the site layout and pool vessel and utility design.

Pool Design Starts with the Basics

Thousands of details go into the design of a new pool like this one in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Typically these projects start with a basic facility layout. We look at the size of the available space, pedestrian and vehicular access points, available utility connections, and the overall feel and context of the site integrated into its surroundings.

Some elements are set or required, like the presence of a pool vessel and building, proximity to restrooms and showers, sufficient vehicle and bicycle parking, minimum pool deck area and safety fencing, and equipment housing. The La Crosse Veterans Memorial Pool site is encompassed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus on three sides and Campbell Road on the fourth side, which limited designers’ ability to alter existing parking and pedestrian walkways.


Other flexible elements often requested by pool clients include concession areas, rentable community rooms, extra deck space for sitting areas, shade structures, and greenspace for sunning or yard games. Engineers guide clients through optimizing their chosen elements to meet their budget and programming needs.

Concept Planning Develops Options, Cost Estimates

Concept planning can include working through several detailed layout options and cost estimates with the client. During this step, engineers start to determine the exact shape and size of the pool vessel, determine the shape and size of the deck and walkways that will allow pedestrians to easily flow through the space, and pick the pool elements that will best serve the community’s needs. If there is another community pool close by with several diving boards and slides, then perhaps the newer pool should incorporate different elements such as more lap lanes or a climbing wall. Engineers also determine the size and position of the restroom/shower and maintenance buildings to best serve the pool patrons.

Site, History Guide Customized Design

After one layout is chosen as the preferred concept, the in-depth detailed design phase begins.


This is where engineers add in all the specific aquatic facility features that are desired. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements are reviewed, seating areas are better defined, and parking areas and landscaping are incorporated. Sometimes, as with the La Crosse pool, we can extend the existing fenced perimeter to incorporate more features into the new aquatic facility. For La Crosse we were able to expand the deck space for increased seating and resting spots for swimmers to take a break and provide a grassy berm for sunbathers.

A unique feature of the La Crosse Veterans Memorial Pool was its significant history to the community and current standing on the local Register of Historic Places. The original pool opened in 1938 and was the first public pool in the City. It was built on Ho-Chunk Nation land and was dedicated to the community’s veterans. To preserve this history, the existing brick building was preserved and is being remodeled and upgraded. A special plaza area was created in the front that incorporates materials from the old pool vessel and includes the original wall plaque that was removed and saved.

Once the final details are agreed on and meet necessary city, state, and federal codes, the project is put out for bid, and construction begins.

The La Crosse community was lucky to have overwhelming support for this project and is looking forward to enjoying their new Veterans Memorial Pool this summer.

Katie MacDonald is a registered professional engineer who has provided engineering design services on pools, splashpads, and parks throughout Wisconsin.

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