Scott Hester – Counsilman-Hunsaker
- Written by: Kate Gardner
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Mike Szajner
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
High diving is not for the faint of heart.
But for many professional divers, the thrill of flipping and flying from a great height into a pool is unmatched. In world championship competitions, men dive from 27 meters, which is roughly equal to eight stories. Until last year, the only place to practice this feat was in Zhaoqing, China.
In September 2022, the Western hemisphere’s first 27-meter diving tower opened at the newly renovated Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center in Florida. The swimming pools and their related equipment and systems were designed by Counsilman-Hunsaker, which specializes in aquatic facility design and engineering.
“The vision for this has been a long time in the making—it’s been an almost 20-year effort for us,” says Scott Hester, the president of Counsilman-Hunsaker. “This is in the legacy facility category for us.”
The Missouri-based aquatic consulting firm also provides facility assessments, feasibility studies, operations support and risk management consulting to aquatic centers worldwide. Its recent work in Fort Lauderdale enables the center to offer international high dive training and events.
“Any time we have an opportunity to make a mark in the swimming world or collaborate with reputable, historical organizations, we jump at those opportunities ,” Hester says. “Our historical project portfolio is part of the DNA of our firm and ties directly with being recognized as the aquatics industry thought leader.”
The Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center, which opened in 1965, is located next to the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Museum. While the municipal center is open to everyone for public swimming, it also hosts diving, junior national and national swimming competitions, as well as water polo and artistic swimming competitions.
According to Hester, Counsilman-Hunsaker’s leadership began discussing the renovations with the City of Ft. Lauderdale in the early 2000s. He says it made sense for the firm to be involved because of its specialty. The company founders, James “Doc” Counsilman and Joe Hunsaker, were accomplished swimmers, with Counsilman having been inducted into the hall of fame in 1976. In addition to being a national champion, Counsilman was the head coach of the men’s U.S. Olympic swim teams in 1964 and 1976.
Hester says the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center renovations took 20 years to come to fruition because of funding and the scope of the project. Construction of the $44 million project began in April 2019. The outdoor dive tower has platforms at nine levels, ranging from 1 to 27 meters. This allows training for junior level divers through Olympic-level competition.
As part of the renovations, Counsilman-Hunsaker also designed a new 50-meter competition pool to replace the original and renovated an existing 50-meter warm-up pool. Additionally, the renovated facility includes a training pool and spa, as well as new spectator seating. The Counsilman-Hunsaker team also provided insight into the redevelopment of the center’s support facilities, such as meet management and facility administration spaces.
As president, Hester led his team in coordinating the project with city officials, facility staff and the project’s design-build team led by Hensel Phelps Construction. After securing the contract for the project, he acted as principal and ensured all contractual obligations were met.
Modernizing the industry
While much of Counsilman-Hunsaker’s work involves consulting on new builds and renovations, the firm also provides aquatic centers with tools to improve daily operations.
For example, in 2018, the firm developed a separate software company, HydroApps, which provides digital documentation tools, such as opening and closing checklists, incident reporting, lifeguard certification tracking, pool water chemistry testing and more.
“It’s all documented digitally in our application and uploaded into the cloud,” Hester says. “You can run reports and access it remotely. You’re basically ditching your clipboard and paper for this digital solution.”
More functions have been added over time, with the Asset Manager platform expected to be released this spring. It’s designed to oversee the products and equipment a facility uses, such as pumps, filters and chemical treatment equipment. It documents inventory, creates maintenance schedules with automated reminders and tracks warranty periods. It also organizes the manufacturers’ contact information.
According to Hester, this idea came from feedback from the firm’s customer advisory board, which meets regularly to discuss the platform and products.
HydroApps has also created a customer-facing dashboard that people can check to see when a pool was last cleaned, what the chemical levels are in the water and more.
“The biggest driver behind HydroApps has been to modernize our industry and how people document the day-to-day operations of aquatic facilities,” Hester says. “We emphasize a facility’s ability to lower risk, reduce cost, enhance safety and be more transparent.”
Hester says innovation at Counsilman-Hunsaker has been one of his favorite things about the firm. He’s been with the company for 25 years, having started as a project manager in 1998 and being promoted to president in 2013.
While many of Counsilman-Hunsaker’s 45 team members have strong swimming backgrounds, Hester’s experience is more modest. Growing up in rural Illinois, he participated in age-group summer league swimming starting when he was 6 years old through the age of 16. His high school didn’t offer swimming, so he gravitated to other sports instead.
“It’s fun to be involved in my current capacity because I know that we’re not just creating world-class aquatic training and competition centers—we’re also creating facilities where kids are learning how to swim, adults can participate in health and wellness activities, and families and friends can recreate and socialize,” Hester says.
Although he never became a champion swimmer, he did become an engineer—a trade that’s served him well at Counsilman-Hunsaker. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1994 and obtained his licensed professional engineering registration in 2000. Before joining the firm, he spent a few years “in the trenches,” he says. Now, as president, he supports all aspects of the business including marketing and development, design and engineering, quality control and facility operations and services.
Outside of work, Hester spends time with his family, including his three sons, with his youngest participating in both club and high school swimming. While the young Hester probably won’t be jumping from the high dive anytime soon, his father likes watching him compete.
“I get to see the impact of my work when people use and enjoy the facilities we worked on, so seeing my son take to the sport has been so enjoyable,” Hester says. “And I’m grateful to have found an industry that I am very passionate about.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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