Story at a glance:
- The North Natomas Community Center and Aquatics Complex, designed by Studio W, brings the first 50-meter pool to Sacramento.
- The complex includes a community center that can hold 350 people, a 50-meter competition pool, a 25-yard recreational pool, and an activity pool.
- The architects designed the space to feel like more than a public pool—it feels like a resort and a home.
With the opening of the North Natomas Community Center and Aquatics Complex, community members can feel like they’re on a tropical vacation without needing to leave northern California.
Designed by Studio W Architects, the 10,600-square-foot complex includes a community center, a 50-meter competition pool, a 25-yard recreational pool, splashdown pads, locker rooms, on-site parking, and support facilities.
“It is the first ever 50-meter Olympic-sized pool for the City of Sacramento,” says Brian Whitmore, president of Studio W Architects.
The complex is part of the 220-acre North Natomas Regional Park. North Natomas was historically an agricultural area but has seen a lot of development in the last few decades.
“Angelique Ashby [the Councilmember representing District 1] had a vision to create an aquatic center at the regional park that would not only serve the community of Natomas but also the Greater Sacramento region,” Whitmore says.
Studio W was hired in 2014 to do a feasibility study to see if it would be viable to build and operate an aquatics complex. They found that the pool could not only be used for practice for the neighboring high school, but also used for competitive meets. There was also interest in creating a zero-entry activity pool for kids with a playground and water slides.
“There was a strong desire for learn-to-swim programs in that region. A lot of aquatics teams go outside of the City of Sacramento to participate in meets, so I think there was a sense of pride in creating that for themselves,” Whitmore says.
Through those conversations, they also realized there wasn’t a large gathering space in North Natomas that could hold upwards of 300 people.
The community center and aquatics complex follows a linear layout. “We have the community center at one end, and then you look out to this vista of the 25-yard and then the 50-meter pool,” Whitmore says.
Around the southern perimeter are gray buildings with blue accents housing locker rooms, a ticketing booth, and other facilities. Many of the buildings have a shed roof, connecting to the agricultural history of the region. The city can choose to add solar panels to them later.
The architects also added stone to the buildings.
“Typically public works projects are very pragmatic in terms of material use, but we wanted to make it a nice facility—something that people would be attracted to that would enhance the community architecturally,” Whitmore says.
To the north of the 25-yard pool, a playground set with three brightly colored parrots sits on top of the circular zero-entry pool. Next to that are blue and white-striped spiral slides.
“Some of the elements of the playground have a hospitality feel to it. If you could imagine going to Hawaii or Cabo or some of these beach places. We wanted people to feel like they were on vacation, not just in a public pool.”
Lawns extend to the east and west of the play area. “The landscape is fully integrated between community center elements and the pool so it feels as if it’s all one complex,” Whitmore says.
The 50-meter pool can generate several thousand people at a time during some events, so it is important to have a large lawn area they can use for pop-up tents and other team gear, he says.
A stormwater capture system in the eastern end of the property keeps water onsite to use for irrigation.
“We don’t have a lot of mature landscape in this region yet. We planted a lot of trees, but until those grow up and provide some shade, particularly in the pool area, we want to shade our pool deck,” Whitmore says.
Studio W designed a variety of shading elements. Palm trees line both sides of the pool. Overhangs provide shade around the perimeter of the buildings, and the bleachers next to the 50-meter pool are covered by a canopy. Fixed sail-cloth cabanas are located near the 25-yard and zero-entry pools, and semi-permanent cabanas can be rented from the city.
The team received praise for its shading design from people who have been to other aquatic centers. “Oftentimes it’s just a pool with a big open deck and to stay cool you’ve got to stay in the pool,” Whitmore says.
Between the community center and the pools is a giant pair of blue flip flops made from cement plaster and steel. The public art project lights up at night and features two palm trees, a swimmer, and waves. “It’s a bit of a wayfinding feature. At the same time it’s a landmark feature there artistically in the center of the complex,” he says.
Studio W worked with Aquatic Design Group to design the swim facilities, and getting the 50-meter pool to meet standards required a lot of coordination.
“It had to be built to a very, very fine measurement in order to meet the standards so that Olympic trials could be held at that facility in the future,” Whitmore says.
It wasn’t just pool dimensions they needed to account for. They also had to factor in the tiles and plaster.
The equipment used for the pool is housed in an enclosed facility.
“There’s miles of pipe in that facility. The volume of water a 50-meter pool generates is pretty significant, but then we have another 25-yard pool, the zero-entry activity pool, and the slides,” he says.
High-efficiency, self-priming pumps are located below grade. Other equipment for filtering and chemical injections are also kept there.
“One of the things that the councilwoman had mentioned was that she wanted the community center to feel like her home,” Whitmore says.
With that in mind, the firm designed the community center to feel like a large multi-purpose space overlooking the pools.
The large glass doors in the community center can open, blending the indoor and outdoor space. “It gives you that feeling as if the community center is your home and the pools are your backyard,” he says.
The community center was designed to accommodate a number of uses, from speaking engagements and live music to private weddings and events. Since its opening the space has already been used for a prom and by the Chamber of Commerce. With the range of uses in mind, sound was an important consideration. Some of the ceiling is exposed, but T-bar ceilings were added in some areas to help with sound absorption. Fiber board acoustic panels also help with sound absorption. Some have a covered with a wave-pattern fabric, playing to the aquatics theme.
It was also important for the community center to use resilient flooring to make cleanup easier with food service. Studio W chose polished concrete for this purpose.
In terms of lighting, the team chose a combination of uplights and downlights. Toward the main entry, a chandelier contributes to the resort-feel of the complex. Round and rectangular LED lights light up the main event space. “It creates more of a luminous feel. It’s a very dramatic space,” Whitmore says.
“Already we’ve seen people lined up out front to get in on the warm days. It’s going to be a fantastic community asset for the City of Sacramento, both regionally and locally.”