Expansive, open plan indoor aquatic centres are great facilities for the community. They are enjoyed and are well used by people of all age groups from learn-to-swim and family play, teen squads and fitness swimmers to older citizens benefitting from aqua aerobics and hydrotherapy.
But one downside of these types of facilities can be noise. As well as being a nuisance, deafening noise levels for swimmers, staff and patrons can also be a health hazard.
Case Study: Wollondilly Community Leisure Centre
This was the case at the indoor swimming complex at the Wollondilly Community Leisure Centre in the picturesque town of Picton, southwest of Sydney. Built by Wollondilly Shire Council in 2003, the facility boasts a 25m, eight-lane heated indoor pool. Operated by Leisure Management Services, it allows year-round swim classes, school swimming carnivals and aquatic programs seven days a week.
Up to 500 people of all ages use the facility each day in summer and at times the noise was ear-splitting.
“The existing material banners were old, stained and ineffective in reducing noise,” says David Emmett, facilities maintenance coordinator at Wollondilly Shire Council.
“Visually they were a blight on the centre,” he says.
Wollondilly Leisure Centre manager James Barnes agrees. “On most days it was hard to have a conversation,” he says. “It was difficult for the swimming instructors to talk to the kids and parents couldn’t talk to each other – it was really unpleasant.”
Blocking the sound
The council turned to Soundblock Solutions, who recommended Stratocell Whisper – a new sound-absorbing foam product developed and manufactured in Europe by SealedAir.
The lightweight polyethylene foam material is ideal for indoor and outdoor industrial, commercial and residential environments where reverberant noise is a problem and can reduce interior and exterior noise levels by up to 70 percent.
The panels absorb sound energy, reduce echo and eliminate reverberation.
The acoustic sound absorbing panels not only control noise, they allow workers and patrons to speak and hear more effectively to provide a safer environment. The product is washable, durable, long lasting and easy to install.
Earlier this year Soundblock Solutions installed 100 Stratocell Whisper panels at strategic points in the pool area.
Emmett says there were cheaper alternatives but they couldn’t supply scientific proof that the product worked, whereas Soundblock Solutions could supply evidence of Stratocell Whisper’s effectiveness.
“Council is satisfied that there is a significant noise and reverberation reduction in the indoor pool area,” he says.
The new panels were installed in two days and there was no need to close the pool.
The Wollondilly Leisure Centre employs 65 staff members, including up to 30 swimming instructors, and Barnes says they are happy with the outcome.
Testing the noise
Rodney Stevens Acoustics, a Sydney-based firm, carried out reverberation testing at 15 locations in the pool complex and found that speech intelligibility has drastically improved with the installation of the panels.
“Before installation we measured response times of 3 to 4 seconds,” he says. “But after installing only 100 panels the results improved significantly to between 0.6 and 0.8 seconds.
“This is close to the recommended response times for classrooms of 0.4 to 0.6 seconds.”
Mr Stevens said the general acoustic atmosphere within the enclosed pool area is now at a level of human comfort.
“The pool complex has become an enjoyable recreational facility because of the acoustic environment,” his report concluded.
Swim school happier
Swim school manager Julie Coulter, a key member of the Leisure Centre staff for more than eight years, says the facility is much quieter since the new material was installed.
“We run up to 1600 swim classes every year for babies and pre-schoolers and the noise was terrible,” she says.
“Sometimes there are five classes happening right next to each other. The kids couldn’t hear the instructors properly and they (the instructors) were becoming quite hoarse because they had to talk so loud to be heard.
“With the old sound proofing material it was very noisy – and it was ugly. The new material is fantastic. It’s much quieter now, and the black and white looks great.”
Coulter says there was a brief period at the pool when there was no soundproofing at all before the new panels were installed.
“It was mayhem – you couldn’t hear a thing,” she says. “When the new panels were installed everyone breathed a sigh of relief – including the parents. We’re all happy now – it’s better for everyone.”