In Rillieux-la-Pape, a town near Lyon in South-East France, the old public swimming pool has been replaced by a brand-new aquatic center. To pay for this big investment, the public authority opted for a system unique in France – a partnership in a concession in the form of a SEMOP (Société d’Économie Mixte à Opération Unique – Institutionalized public-private partnerships). Origami pool director David Obozil told us about the benefits and drawbacks of this management system and how the pool communicates with users and potential users to attract more swimmers.
The new Origami public pool
Your new public swimming pool was built just beside the old one. Why did you decide not to re-furbish it?
David Obozil: “An audit of the old pool detected malfunctions of the heating/ventilation system and several leaks. Moreover, the old pool did not provide what today’s users want. The mayor of Rillieux-la-Pape launched a call for bids. One decision factor was to pick a shareholder and operator to set up a SEMOP (a mixed-ownership company created for a single operation) and make the candidate selected for the concession responsible for designing, financing, implementing, managing and operating the pool with oversight by local authority representatives.”
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How does this kind of management system function?
David Obozil: “It is a new kind of management system for public authorities. A French law adopted in 2014 enables the founding of joint stock companies by designating upstream of a project the shareholder who will execute the contract. In this case, the town of Rillieux-la-Pape chose Opalia as its partner and became the first town in France to award a SEMOP concession for a public pool.
The concession is the highest existing level of public service delegation. It involves the project coordination, construction, maintenance and operational phases of an establishment. To amortize the investment, leases are longer (in this case, 25 years). As a comparison, leases for properties for which the public authority is responsible for construction are usually for 4 to 6 years.
To finance this partnership, Rillieux-la-Pape reimburses the construction cost and the operation of the pool (overheads and payback) to compensate for public service obligations such as school lessons, use by clubs and entry tickets year by year. The total amount of these payments determines the financial balance. Opalia’s commercial and operational expertise is important to generate more sales and ensure this balance – and even make a profit.”
Why is this kind of shared management good for public swimming pools?
David Obozil: “Local public authorities call in specialists to reduce the initial cost of building and commissioning their public pools. The leaseholders are responsible for quality controls. The new pool was built in 20 months and delivered on time.
The partner company then uses its expertise to reduce overheads and optimize income, enabling regular investment throughout the leasehold and in this way to reduce financial pressure on the community. Historically public authorities and companies are a little distrustful of one another, but this system makes it possible to go forward together – a true partnership in which all the participants share the same objectives and deploy a positive development and management strategy in tandem. If the SEMOP is profitable, both partners win!
At the end of the 25-year lease, the public pool becomes the property of Rillieux-la-Pape which can then decide to maintain this arrangement – or not.”
You mentioned new customer expectations. What have you done to meet them?
David Obozil: “The old pool had six swimming lanes. To host more swimmers the new pool has eight. Our 250sq.m activities pool is wired for sound for thirty aquafitness courses a week. We started by transposing what existed in the gyms into the water (aquasculpt, aquastretching, aquaboxing, etc.) to attract a younger public which was deserting the old pool. The public really enjoys the aquafitness sessions, the thermal comfort of the water as well as the lighting and acoustics which are much better than those at the old pool!”
The wellbeing space of the Origami public pool
The new wellbeing space has two spas, two saunas, a Turkish bath and a massage shower. The green spaces enjoyed by families have been partially retained and improved with the addition of a slide and a splash pad (water games). There is a play pool indoors with a flowing stream and massage benches for families and relaxation.”
What did you tell the public about the new swimming pool during its construction?
David Obozil: “To ensure the continuity of service, Rillieux-la-Pape used corporate communications to tell the public about the new project while continuing to operate the old pool. Once built we produced a flyer distributed by all the public authority contact points to inform the population which, curious, sent a host of e-mails to the town to get more details. We also opened a website to relay this information.”
What do you do to promote the swimming pool now it is open?
David Obozil: “Our advertising and promotional campaigns have three main directions. Sales ads (at the start of school terms, new year and before the summer) to generate new season memberships, ads about events all year long and specific event-focused ads (competitions, first aid courses …) to build awareness.
We use a wide range of media – billboards, the town’s electronic information panels, bus stops, mailing shots, SMS campaigns, e-mailing shots, our website and our Facebook page as well as paid-for advertising.
Inside the pool we push our services. We have installed an interactive sales terminal and an automatic coin-operated ticket distributor which provides change so that the relationship between the public and the pool operator is based on our services and not on cash transactions.”
More and more public authorities use large-scale advertising and promotional campaigns to attract their public and enhance their ROIs. Delegating public swimming pool construction and management enables them to profit from the track records of specialized companies – an interesting alternative well worth exploring! But before you take the step, it is vital to check that there will be a local demand.
© Photos credits: Photo Henri