Restoring The Homestead's Historic Spa

Let's make the job simple: you need to come up with an entirely new spa program, but you can't change the outside of the building (it's historic), you can't move the mineral tubs, and the spa will keep operating during construction.

The Homestead Spa has an important place in the history of American spas. When the original Bath House was built in 1892 it introduced a degree of luxury previously offered only in the finest European spas. Over the years, however, the grand spa became tired - its facilities remained static even as spa concepts advanced. In 1994, when The Homestead's owner, Club Resorts, undertook to update the spa as part of an overall upgrade of The Homestead, they retained our firm to assist with the project. This article tells how we approached that project.

Long before Europeans knew of the springs at what is now "The Homestead" in Hot Springs, Virginia, Native Americans recognized the therapeutic potential of the waters. Some springs are heavy with minerals, and thus were thought to be healthful to drink, and others bubble from the ground at a constant temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The colonists soon found the site, probably escorted there by native guides. By 1766, when the first permanent buildings were constructed on The Homestead's site, the springs had become a popular destination for those travelers seeking to "take the cure" using the mineral waters.

That first Homestead, called a "rustic lodge" by visitors, was built by Commodore Thomas Bullitt to house all the people who visited his home seeking to take the mieral waters. After a series of owners came and went, the property was acquired in 1832 by Dr. Thomas Goode. Dr. Goode improved the existing bath houses and in 1846 announced the opening of a "modern hotel." Advertisements of the day touted the waters as a cure for gout, rheumatism, liver diseases, paralysis, and spinal irritations.

Dr. Goode died in 1858, but The Homestead spa still preserves his legacy with its Cure package and Dr. Goode's Spout Bath. The Spout Bath is a mineral-water cascade that acts as a massage directed at any tight or sore muscles. The Cure package is a traditional combination of treatments that guests have been enjoying at The Homestead for over a century. The package includes a soak in one of the mineral-water tubs followed by skin exfoliation with a salt blend. For a finishng touch, guests experience a water massage from the Scotch spray and multi-headed Swiss shower. The mineral water in the tubs comes from one of the resort's hot springs.

Another piece of history from The Homestead's spa is the Zander equipment. In the mid 1800s, Dr. Gustav Zander, a Swedish inventor and orthopedic doctor, invented a series of exercise devices for building strength. At one time, The Homestead had 17 of these pieces in its Zander room. Today, some of that equipment is at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The Zander equipment may have been the forerunner of the Cybex strength equipment now found in the spa's fitness studio.

In the late 1800s a group of shareholders of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad took over ownership of The Homestead. Following that, the Ingalls family owned and operated The Homestead as a private, independent property for four generations. (Patriarch M.E. Ingalls was president of the Chesapeake & Ohio when it owned the property, but The Homestead was divested in 1948 from the successor company, now called CSX, and the rail spur to The Homestead was abandoned decades ago.) In the early 1990s, the Ingalls family entered into a jointventure agreement with Club Resorts to purchase the resort.

HFD's Initial Involvement

Health Fitness Dynamics (HFD) had worked with The Homestead before being called on to help with the spa renovation. When the Ingalls family operated the property, HFD helped recruit one of its spa directors, as one of its spa directors, assisted with fitness-equipment selection, and made some operationsconsulting visits.

In 1993, soon after Club Resorts took over the property, CEO Gary Rosenberg contacted HFD to ask that we submit a proposal to assist with facility planning of a "new" spa. Our proposal was accepted, and we began developing the facility program for the architects based on the concept, spa services, and guest use that we expected. We were also asked to establish the start-up expense budget and financial projections for the spa.

Facility Planning

In summer 1994 we began working with the design team Glave Newman Anderson to "polish" this grande dame of spas. Our goal was to preserve the historic core but to upgrade the spa to ensure its appeal, marketability, and profit potential. HFD's role was to determine the highest and best use for the existing building.2 To do so, we first needed to collect the following data to learn more about The Homestead:

  • Examine information from the archives so that the historic value of the spa would be preserved;
  • Determine the concept that would be most compatible with the resort's objective to restore the spa so that it would complement and enhance the property;
  • Decide the types of services that would be most marketable;
  • Design spa packages (combinations of services) that would give people a memorable experience indicative of The Homestead; and
  • Estimate the number of people who would use the spa facility and services.

To achieve those objectives, and prior to developing the architectural plan, HFD used its Spa Analysis Questionnaire to gather key information from the resort, such as: market mix, guests' length of stay, seasonality, objectives for the renovated spa, and other data. HFD also looked at guest-comment cards and met with resort managers during this information-gathering stage of the process. During the planning stage we also used information gathered from various HFD research studies on spa-users, resort guests who choose to not use the spa, and spa economies.

Based on the above, HFD developed the facility program and space plan that determined how to arrange the various spa treatment and activity areas in the existing fourstory spa building, which comprises some 35,000 square feet. To develop the facility program we used our proprietary software. The software allowed us to forecast, among other things, the following variables:

  • spa-use levels;
  • spa-service-use levels;
  • number and type of treatment rooms that would be needed;
  • number of lockers needed to accommodate spa users' needs;
  • staffmg needs;
  • laundry and linen needs (including guest and employee spa clothing);
  • start-up costs and operating expenses;
  • revenue sources; and
  • income.

Once we developed those forecasts and collected other spa- and resort-related data, we were able to propose a plan for the architects.

We believe that a space plan must create a flow pattern that is comfortable for the guests and operationally efficient and stress-free for the employees, and which allows for profitability. For this project space planning was a challenge, because the existing building was historical and was surrounded by other facilities, including a Victorian-era enclosed pool. The existing bath house was on four levels and concealed many "surprises" for the design team. For example, the building's nonstandard walls and structural openings were a challenge to work around. A few treatment rooms ended up being narrower than we had recommended, due to the existing corridor walls that were preserved. One room had its space restricted by a large masonry chimney that ran through the roof. Furthermore, the entire facility has a left side-right side orientation due to a mechanical shaft that runs the length of the building. That shaft made it necessary to construct a bridge between the two sides to accommodate the coed lounge. Such challenges and characteristics notwithstanding, the entire building was upgraded and reinforced with respect to mechanical and structural items. (Indeed, the HVAC upgrade was so costly that, in the end, it was necessary to eliminate the group whirlpools for men, women, and coed use while retaining the 12 individual mineral tubs which were restored during the renovation.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge was that the renovation was to be completed in stages, while the spa continued to operate.

As with most renovation plans, this project entailed a series of compromises in which one tries to develop the best function for a given space. For various reasons, some of the existing areas had to stay "in place." For example, the historic mineral tubs that are the "core" product of The Homestead spa could not be moved. On the other hand, we could gut the rest of the spa to create a facility that would respect the rich history of the past while positioning the spa for the next century.

The original bath house had a design typical of 19thcentury mineral-springs spas. Those historical bath houses usually had a changing and resting room connected to the tub room. As we found them, the two treatment levels of The Homestead's existing spa contained a men's level with eight massage rooms, one Scotch-mist room, eight private mineral baths, thirteen private dressing rooms, and a steam room and sauna, as well as lockers, offfices, and reception space. On the women's floor were eight massage rooms, one Scotch-mist room, ten private mineral baths, and sixteen private dressing rooms.

We knew that the existing design would not give the resort's owner the flexibility needed to operate the spa profitably. It also did not provide enough of what we call "comfort zones," places where guests can relax while in the spa. Additionally, whenever we plan a spa, we design a coed treatment area that can be separated, if necessary. Thus, instead of retaining the existing men's and women's levels, we recommended that most spa treatment rooms be established as coed facilities.

As previously mentioned, the decision was made by the owner to complete the renovation in stages and to keep the bath house open to guests. Because of the rich history of The Homestead's spa, guests expected the spa to be open during their stay. The following is a breakdown of how the renovated spa was divided among the various floors.

Level 4

We started the renovation project on the top floor, level four, which opened in 1995 with a retail spa and salon shop; a salon with reception area, hair care, make-up, manicures, pedicures, and (until the treatment rooms were finished) skin care; a fitness studio with strength and cardiovascular equipment; an exercise studio for supervised classes; a recreation room; and a lounge.

Level four also contains historical photos of the bath house, the nearby Jefferson pools (white wooden structures covering the gentlemen's and laciest mineral water pools), and the hot sulfur spring. Since the mid 1890s, level four has had a direct internal connection to the west wing of the hotel, via a glass-enclosed breezeway. We retained this walkway and had it renovated, as it is a nice feature - especially during inclement weather.

Levels 2 and 3

Levels two and three were in dire need of renovation, in contrast to the rest of The Homestead's facilities, which had been generally updated. Guests praised the spa employees for their excellent service, but comments about the state of the facility remained negative. The original plan was to complete renovations of levels two and three in 1997. The need for improved guestroom accommodations took precedence, however, and management decided to complete the renovation of the hotel guest rooms before finishing the spa.

Then, however, a 1997 survey revealed that guests wanted the resort to finish the spa before completing the guest-room renovation. Thus, the spa's renovation moved to the front burner again, and we and the design firm geared up to put on a fast track a process that had been on hold for some time. One step that The Homestead's management took to assist in the overall effort to advance the renovation and reopening was the mid-1997 hiring of a spa director, Christie Ford. (Prior to this, the spa was overseen by shift supervisors.)

The renovation took one year, and the new spa opened on August 22,1998. Level two holds the main spa reception desk, where guests check in on entering. Here they receive their locker key and reflexology slippers. Also on level two are the spa director's office, a lobby lounge, and the spa shop featuring The Homestead's signature body and bath products, along with a skin-care line, spa accessories, gift baskets, spa attire, and work-out wear. This level also has facilities separated for the sexes. Separate men's and women's locker areas on level two feature private lockers (the women's side also has private changing rooms), vanities stocked with amenities and toiletries, and a lounge, steam room, and sauna. Complimentary waters and juices are also provided there.

Spa-treatment rooms on level two include one massage room intended primarily for men that can be used by women if no men are using it. Two "body rooms," one for each sex, allow for application of various treatments, including seaweed and clay masks, Allegheny raspberry relaxer, Karisoftness nourisher, herbal wraps, and the spa's signature Mountain Laurel Body Polish (which we discuss in a moment). Four mineral-bath tub rooms remain on this level, along with two "cure" rooms, again one for each sex, which are used for the historical Homestead bath-house treatment that guests have been enjoying here for over a century. This level also has some back-ofthe-house space, including storage and a prep room, where employees can review their schedules, prepare for some of the services, and store supplies.

Level three now has the new coed treatment areas, as well as men's and women's lounges where complimentary beverages and fruit are offered. A coed lounge offers the same amenities as the genderspecific ones. The stairways that lead to this lounge from the men's and women's locker-room and facility area on level two are exact replicas of the ones in the original bath house. The coed spa treatment area on level three has eight mineral-tub rooms, ten massage rooms, five rooms for facial and wax treatments, and two body (wet) rooms.

We designed some of these coed rooms to be spa suites comprising three interconnected individual treatment rooms. Each spa suite has its own alcove area for additional privacy. The spa suite becomes a spa within a spa that is ideal for couples, family groups, friends, or guests who want total privacy. When not reserved as a suite, the rooms can be used as individual spa-treatment rooms.

Level three has more backofthe-house space, in the form of a prep room, storage rooms, a small juice-bar kitchen, janitor's closets, and restrooms.

Level 1

The renovation of level one was left until last, and it did not open with the rest of the spa, although the indoor pool had been renovated during phase one and was open. In addition to the mineral-spring-fed pool, the ground level has a bowling alley and locker rooms for the pools. We also included a private, family changing room for those parents who may not want to take their children into a locker room used by the opposite sex. This area also has an outdoor pool, a snack bar, employee locker rooms and lounge, and an administration area with offfices for supervisors, storage for professional and retail products, and a laundry and linen area. A laundry chute connects the treatment levels to this pick-up and drop-off area.

As we noted above, the resort still needed to offer its guests a spa experience during the eight months of renovation, because spa services are one of the reasons people go to The Homestead. The resort needed, therefore, to create a "temporary" spa. To do this, guest rooms in the hotel's west wing, near the enclosed breezeway connecting to the spa, became temporary treatment rooms for massages and herbal wraps. The salon in the spa building remained fully operational, as did the fitness and exercise studios. Thus, throughout the renovation, guests were able to enjoy the spa experience in its entirety, with the exception of the body and bath treatments.

HFD's Operational Assistance

In February 1998 we began to prepare for the operations aspects of our consulting assignment. During this phase, HFD provided spec books that acted as purchasing manuals for all equipment, products, supplies, and accessories necessary for the spa; provided spa information to key resort departments so that they understood the new spa facilities and services; prepared the organizational chart, created job descriptions, and developed the training manuals for all spa departments; assisted with development of collateral material and provided marketing information to the resort; created and conducted the training program and provided the training team; and assisted with the preopening and soft opening.

Working closely with spa director Christie Ford, HFD developed a critical path, determining who would take the lead for each task. We continued to offer support to the design and construction team as the spa operated.

Private label

We felt that it was important to create new signature treatments and specially formulated products to supplement The Homestead's existing products. Although this was a team effort, Christie Ford was instrumental in creating the spa's signature treatments. One of these, the Mountain Laurel Body Polish and Spa Pedicure, is derived from the mountain laurel that is found throughout the Allegheny Mountains surrounding the resort. Another signature product was based on the area's abundant raspberries. The spa has two signature treatments using custom raspberry products: the Spa Manicure and the Allegheny Raspberry Relaxer, which is an exfoliation treatment. In addition to the above, we all helped to create additional products and signature touches for a variety of the other body treatments: bath, massage, skin care, nail care, and hair care. Our purpose was to create a series of memorable treatments that would add up to a wonderful experience for the guests. Everything used in the spa treatments is sold in the spa shop, which allows guests to "take the spa home." This not only is a good marketing tool to remind the guests of their Homestead experience, but it is also a profit center via mail order and incentive and group gift sales.

Although The Homestead is in a beautiful location, it is just far enough from metropolitan areas that trained spa personnel, particularly therapists, are difficult to find. Because Ford needed seasonal therapists to assist during the busy summer and fall months, HFD recruited, screened, and presented qualified candidates for the seasonal therapist positions. During pre-opening training, the spa team comprised 35 full- and part-time people. The spa now employs 43, in addition to seasonal and temporary workers.

On Sunday,July 26,1998, about one month before the grand reopening, we began the training program for spa personnel. This was a delicate matter in some ways, because most of the spa's employees had been with The Homestead for many years. Many of the employees live in or around Hot Springs and have worked at the spa all their adult lives. One-fifth of them had worked in the spa 15 years or longer, and for quite some time they had worked in a facility that was tired, to say the least. Prior to the training program, some of these employees probably wondered who these "outsiders" were who were going to teach them something many of them had been doing for years.

We are pleased to report that right from the beginning, spa employees were willing partners in the training program. Indeed, many employees became valuable resources for our training programs, helping us to create a program that would stay true to the historical treatments offered at the spa. We edited the training manual, as necessary, so that it became a living, working document for the workers. The outcome was that this training process was one of the most rewarding training sessions we have had in 15 years of business.

The training program introduced new services to these seasoned employees. The training, therefore, consisted not only of teaching the procedures for each treatment, but also elevating the employees' service and performance quality standards. We were essentially asking the team to become part of the process and to help us keep the rich history of The Homestead alive - while at the same time adding some contemporary touches. We challenged the employees to grow both personally and professionally, but we needed to be sensitive and supportive in asking for many changes. Also, we knew their work environment was about to change once they moved into the new spa. What could have been stressful actually became an extraordinary experience.

We planned for a two-week training program. Since the spa was still under construction, we set up the training stations in some guest rooms in the west wing near the temporary spa. Because the spa staff continued to offer services to guests, we divided the staff into two groups for training. Each group was trained on new services and standards for half a day and worked their shift the other half.

The original targeted opening day was August 7, but it gradually became apparent that the spa was not going to be ready to open as planned. The construction team, led by project manager Roger Waldeck, The Homestead's chief engineer, made a valiant effort, but time just ran out. Rather than open the spa unfinished and under construction, the resort's managers decided to wait until the spa was completely done before opening it (with the exception of the staff end back-ofhouse sections of level one). Motivating that decision was the fact that the guests' experience could have been adversely affected if the spa had opened unfinished on the original date of August 7. The decision stopped the official training for one week, although the spa team continued giving services in the west wing and practiced the new treatments in the training rooms.

When we returned after a little more than one week's hiatus, we could not have been more proud of this group of people. The team banded together to return the westwing rooms to availability for guest use - all the while continuing the spa services to guests. Also, from August 17 through 21, as we continued with training, room set ups, and general cleaning, we felt a renewed spirit coming from everyone. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Thus, when the spa opened on August 22, not only was the building entirely changed, but we believe the spa employees operated that spa at a new level of professionalism.

The Homestead asked HFD to offer operational assistance and to be on call during the first year after renovations. We were scheduled to perform an operational review in spring 1999 and provide "refresher training." Moreover, HFD's management support services help keep the spa employees focused as they continue to work in their new territory. For a current-status report, see the box on the next page.

One favorable outcome of the combination of the renovation, Christie Ford's efforts, and our recruiting work is that it is becoming easier to attract the quality personnel the spa needs. Three graduates of the cosmetology school in nearby Staunton started work in the spa in fall 1998, bringing the number of fulltime cosmetologists to nine (from four during the training program). During Thanksgiving weekend 1998, when Ford needed some temporary massage therapists, she was able to hire five of them from a massage school in Roanoke (about an hour from the resort).

The results of the spa renovation have exceeded management's expectations. Revenues are ahead of projections. Guests respond positively to the new facility, the treatments, and the staff. The spa team has a great attitude plus a sense of pride and ownership - especially those who remember what the old facilities looked like. Moreover, the resort is pleased with how the spa is fitting into its marketing efforts and how it is integrated into the total Homestead resort experience for leisure and group guests.

Our work with The Homestead was delightful and gratifying. The spa has a solid foundation for the future, and we are proud to have played a role in helping combine tradition with technology to recreate one of America's first spas. The experience can perhaps best be summarized by a quote from CEO Gary Rosenberg:"The renovation of the 106-year-old spa has been a rewarding experience. We have made every effort to combine the unique qualities of our historic treatments with the latest in spa technology. Keeping focused on both the resort's history and the expectations of our guests has been of primary consideration in our development plan." Top

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Health Fitness Dynamics, Inc.
1305 N.E. 23rd Avenue, Suite 2, Pompano Beach, Florida, U.S.A. 33062
Phone: 954-942-0049 - Fax: 954-941-0854