Shade, Shadow, Splash: Elk Grove’s New Aquatics Center

by: Clarence D. Mamuyac, Jr., FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
The Elk Grove Aquatics Center will serve as the central feature of the city’s new Civic Center, a community hub for events and other outdoor activities.

The increase in Elk Grove’s population from 60,000 people in 2000 to more than 170,000 today placed a strain on the area’s aquatics facilities. With a strong swimming community but no high school district pools, the city’s residents, competitive recreational swim team, and school swim teams all had to share just two community aquatics centers. The city also wanted to build a 50-meter Olympic-sized competition pool to attract more visitors to Elk Grove for major competitive swimming events, as only two cities in the Sacramento region have 50-meter pools.

To meet the demands of continued population growth and provide a dedicated competitive venue for local, regional, and state tournaments, the city asked ELS Architecture and Urban Design to design a new outdoor aquatics center. With a 50-meter pool, a six-lane lap pool, and a fun-water pool, the Elk Grove Aquatics Center is the first phase of a new master-planned park, commons, and civic center.

Located just south of Sacramento, Elk Grove frequently experiences summer high temperatures of more than 100 degrees, which meant that providing shade for the facility’s users was crucial. ELS bisected the one-story 13,000-square-foot complex with a 400-foot-long white steel trellis shade structure. The trellis defines the entry, provides shelter from the sun for those waiting in the entrance queue outside the aquatics center, and offers shade alongside the lap pool on the at-grade deck and the 50-meter pool on the lower deck. Large stepped terraces on two sides of the 50-meter pool lead to the lower deck and double as seating for spectators during events. Umbrellas and a new bosque of trees provide additional shade within the facility.

Children play in the splash pad at the new Elk Grove Aquatics Center

Shade has a practical function, but ELS also used it to help enliven the facility and allow its character to change throughout the day. The trellis’s louvers are angled to cast dramatic shadows that shift as the sun moves across the sky, throwing down individual lines at some point in the day and casting one long solid shadow at others. These shadows move across the terraces of colored planks, the concrete paving, and the side of the building, providing a dynamic look.

To create the form of the aquatics center, ELS drew inspiration from the curving pathways of the park’s landscape design. A curved wall more than 400 feet long and made of concrete masonry units serves as the main face of the facility. Custom-designed horizontal LED lights fit into the wall’s running bond pattern. Suggesting droplets of water flying from a diver’s splash, the blue lights are staggered and set close together near the entry, while the space between the lights gradually increases the further they get from the entry. The lights give the aquatics center a distinctive nighttime presence.

White metal panels, white metal parapet caps, and white painted steel complement the warm color of the concrete masonry units and help define the edges and shapes of the aquatics center within the park’s landscape. The facility also includes recreation and aquatics team locker rooms, administrative offices, and a concessions area, as well as community rooms that can be rented for children’s parties and other events.

Since the opening, the facility has been well received by the community. “With the official swim season recently concluding, the city experienced firsthand the tremendous benefits of the facility, which ranged from packed recreation swims, multiple swim tournaments, a variety of swim classes for residents, and popular waterslides,” says Jason Behrmann, Elk Grove’s city manager. “This facility was built to meet the diverse needs of our community and their love for water recreation activities.”

The Lobby of the new Elk Grove Aquatics Center

“The Elk Grove Aquatics Center offers the first new public pools in Elk Grove in more than a decade and the first 50-meter pool in the city,” says Steve Ly, mayor of Elk Grove. “It expands on the high-quality aquatic facilities available in Elk Grove and provides more water for local, regional, and even statewide competitions, which is good for our kids, good for our quality of life, and good for our local economy.”