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Need Fun? Just Add Water!

Outfitting Your Pool

By Dave Ramont

There are more ways than ever for people to spend their precious entertainment dollars these days. Therefore, businesses are always looking for that extra little lure to get people through their door, to sweeten the pot. And aquatic facilities are no different.

Karen Andrus-Hughes, marketing manager for a Canby, Ore.-based manufacturer of pool equipment, has noticed in recent years an increasing move by aquatic directors and facility managers to add new pool deck equipment and programming that will attract more users to their pools. "Whether it's Aquatic Zumba, an in-the-pool Easter egg hunt, a big ride pool slide or pool game, adding extra swimming pool fun is essential to getting people to the pool and keeping them coming back. A pool of water only is no longer enough."

There are many choices for facilities when it comes to adding a little pizzazz, from large climbing walls to a simple volleyball net. Andrus-Hughes points out that careful product selection is vital in getting the most out of available pool space. "For example, consider selecting a pool basketball game that can be placed in the same deck anchor as a starting block. Making this work means considering water depth at the installation point, as well as the game's and starting block's setback from the edge of the pool. A little planning ahead of time can help make the most of your pool space."

Of course, these pool amenities need to be able to withstand high-humidity environments, heavy doses of UV rays and exposure to pool chemicals. Another consideration is the product's deck space requirements, if any. And the pool's configuration and layout may dictate what type of anchoring system is required for certain products.

Let's start with the aforementioned basketball games, an inexpensive yet popular water activity. Some bases can be mounted, while others simply fill with sand or water. Some feature winged backboards, which deflect the ball back in to the pool, and many are height-adjustable.

Water volleyball is also popular, with some systems using the same anchoring system as basketball. Custom length nets are available. Underwater hockey has also become popular, with some facilities offering league play. Other economical games include water badminton, underwater ring toss and various diving games.

Waterslides are always a hit, and provide a waterpark feel to pool facilities. There are full-tube or half-tube models, with open or closed flumes. Some have ladders or spiral staircases. High-volume water delivery systems are available, discharging up to 30 gallons of water per minute. Some slides are designed for younger kids, incorporating safety features such as molded handrails and enclosed ladders.

Many facilities are seeking extra revenue from water therapy or water fitness classes. Stationary aqua exercise bikes and aqua treadmills are perfect for fitness or rehab. Aqua fitness belts, barbells, and exercise balls are available, as are water exercise steps for water aerobics. Deck-side public address systems are great for aqua aerobics classes, with inputs for microphones, iPods, and other MP3 players.

Myron Clifton, director of marketing and sales operations for a Concord, Calif.-based national distributor of aquatic supplies, said, "With summer here, we are very excited about several products, including advanced pool cleaners and vacuums that keep your pool clean for minimal costs."

Indeed, automatic vacuums and robotic pool cleaners, which are self-propelled and self-contained, save on labor costs. They can operate by remote control, and utilize various cleaning programs. Some have brushes for scrubbing, and feature wall-climbing capabilities. Old-school leaf rakes, nets and skimmers are still popular, too.

Need a Lift?

Another trend Clifton mentioned are the advancements in pool lifts. "Many ADA-approved aquatic lifts now have heavier lifting capacity, or have intelligent control battery for easier accessibility, and some have covers, caddies and armrest options," he said. Since the Access Board, which is responsible for developing and updating the design guidelines for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), revised standards in 2010, most public pools are now required to have at least one primary means of entry, either a pool lift or sloped entry. Pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall require an additional form of access as well, which could be a lift, ramp, stairs or a transfer wall or system. Only the one type of accessible entry is required if a pool has less than 300 linear feet.

Businesses are always looking for that extra little lure to get people through their door, to sweeten the pot. And aquatic facilities are no different.

There are three main types of pool lifts to choose from. If having a deck obstruction is not a problem, then a permanent lift is a great choice, and typically the least expensive. They're attached to an anchor underneath the deck.

Removable lifts are installed into a sleeve in the pool deck and can be removed as needed. If sleeves are installed at different points, you can use the same lift in multiple locations. The sleeve is covered by a protective cap when the lift is removed.

These two types of lifts can be battery- or water-powered. Lifts that are water-powered are connected to a water supply, typically a hose across the deck or conduit installed under the deck.

Portable pool lifts are the third and most flexible option, but usually the most expensive. These rechargeable battery-powered lifts are on wheels, and utilize brakes and weights to stay in place while in use.

There are many add-ons for pool lifts, such as activation keys to prevent unauthorized use. Other options include wireless remotes, different seat types, seat belts, adjustable head rests, and moving foot and arm rests. Depending on a pool's construction, some lifts feature longer reaches to water lines or can rotate. Some can service in-ground pools and above-ground spas, or serve two adjoining pools from the same install location.

Aqua wheelchairs are great for pools with ramps, zero-depth entry or movable floors. They're also useful in showers and spas, and can feature retractable foot rests, swinging side-arms, seatbelts, shoulder harnesses and anti-tip features. There are also ADA-compliant ladders, which might have wider stairs, shielded treads or extended handrails. They may be forward-walking, or have netting under the stairs and sides to prevent entrapment. Some have wheels or are designed for easy, frequent removal.

Kittrell Pool in White Plains, N.Y., was built in 1970, and over the years it's seen heavy use from camp groups and residents alike. So, in 2015, it underwent a renovation, combining the old tot pool and main pool into one bigger pool. New additions included a new deck surface, lap lanes, lifeguard chairs, deck furniture, lockers and locker room amenities. But they also made the pool and building far more accessible, adding zero-depth entry and ADA-compliant walkways, entrances and exits, bathrooms, showers and changing rooms. In addition, they purchased an aquatic wheelchair and pool lift.

Fran Croughan is a manager at Kittrell, and said the rejuvenated pool was an instant success. "It's been elevated to another level—it's an overall nicer facility. The amount of usage doubled in the first season."

As far as the pool lift, Croughan said there are a few regular users, plus one woman who regularly utilizes the aqua wheelchair. "She transfers into the wheelchair, rolls right into the pool and starts swimming. If we helped one person, it was all worth it."

Ready to Compete?

There are many competitive products available, with technology driving new innovations all the time.

"We're excited about the latest lane lines and storage reels, and new and bigger pace clocks," Clifton said.

Lane lines seem simple enough, but over the years manufacturers have worked to tweak them so as to provide a product that doesn't, well, make waves, since tranquil water is imperative during races. Corrie Lloyd is the new business development manager at a Constantine, Mich.-based manufacturer of competitive pool products. She explained how they were innovators when it came to including a material in their production phase for the discs and floats that not only extends the life of the lane for use, but also protects the lanes from UV damage, which can cause discoloration and the plastics to crack and break. Indeed, their lane lines have been used in several Olympics and many other national and international competitions.

"We offer 17 colors, and for larger orders are capable of matching custom colors to allow a cosmetic balance for facilities." She added that they offer a tensioning device that does not require any tools, allowing for quick installation of the lanes with a simple turn of the wrist.

Lane line storage reels and caddies allow for quick and easy installation and removal of lane lines, and assist in keeping the lines neat and preventing tangling. Depending on the lane line diameter, some can hold nearly 1,000 feet.

Starting platforms are another important product when it comes to racing and fractions of seconds. There are many varieties, compatible with different types of timing systems. Different styles of pedestals are available, depending on pool configurations. For instance, extra elevation may be required for pools with overflow gutter designs. There are various types of tread, with some companies offering custom colors or team logos. Some have hand grips or wedges for "track" style starts. Some start systems contain speakers and also strobes for hearing-impaired athletes.

New technologies have driven advances in wireless starting systems, touchpads, timing consoles, judging terminals and scoreboards—with different components having the capability to communicate with each other as well. Scoreboards come in many sizes and styles, and can be re-configured by changing modules, therefore covering swimming, diving, water polo or synchronized swimming.

Full-color LED video displays are capable of showing animations, live action and instant replays, and advertising. Other competitive products include backstroke and finish line flags, pace clocks—which can be electric or battery-powered—and water polo supplies.

Lloyd pointed out that water polo has been growing for the past 10 years in all areas from clubs to high school and collegiate levels. Necessary supplies include goals—choose from floating or deck-mounted wall goals—and balls, which come in different sizes for men, women or juniors. There are field lane lines, shot clocks and water polo startup baskets for providing efficient and accurate starts to games. Tubes are available for inner tube water polo games.

Over the last two years what we've seen in the industry is the popularity of facilities for early introduction to swimming for children.

Pools across the U.S. are adding competitive programs to drive attendance, but budget restrictions make this a slow process for many facilities, according to Lloyd. "We have pools trying to build programs but are only able to get one piece of equipment every two years or so, so this makes growing a program difficult—especially a new program. Over the last two years what we've seen in the industry is the popularity of facilities for early introduction to swimming for children."

There are many products geared toward instruction. Adjustable-height teaching platforms reduce water depths, offering a secure, elevated surface for student swimmers to stand in the water while learning. Some are modular and can be linked together, sitting on pool-bottom risers that fill with sand, and most have railings.

Swim walls maximize swim lane flexibility and usage, by separating one lane into two. So two swimmers could swim laps in one lane, or lessons could take place during lap swim. Some walls suspend between two racing lane lines. Another type sits on the pool floor when not in use, and when filled with air, it forms a pool wall designed to fit around lane lines.

Underwater speakers allow for talking to swimmers underwater, broadcasting a recall tone during competition, clearing a pool, or providing scuba instruction. Underwater pool mirrors aid in checking stroke techniques, or can be hung vertically from pool ends to provide feedback during flip turns.

Add a Little Fun!

Aquatic climbing walls are hot, and are utilized for both fitness and fun. They are modular, with four-foot panels attaching to a stainless steel frame, allowing you to customize the width and height of the wall. Pool depth determines the height of the wall, and most space and deck configurations can be accommodated.

Another popular item is inflatable obstacle courses or other inflatable-play amenities. These are great ways to increase revenue and attendance, with some facilities offering them at specific times for an added fee, or installing them during pool rentals and parties. These modules can be customized in many sizes and shapes, depending on space. Again, the higher a module is, the deeper the water has to be. They're an easy investment and don't require any construction. Modular and stand-alone varieties are available.

There are various ways of anchoring inflatable play structures, usually requiring bungees. Horizontal anchoring is one method, using mobile or stationary floor loops for swim lanes. Other stationary objects for horizontal anchoring could include starting blocks or ladders. Some pools have pre-installed anchoring points embedded in the floor for vertical anchoring. Floor anchors and anchor sacks can also be utilized. Most inflatables don't require continuous flow, and can be easily inflated or deflated with an electric blower or hand pump.

On Deck

Let's move on to deck amenities, which offer up a plethora of products. And one that has always maintained popularity is the classic diving board. These days, they're mostly made from fiberglass with a solid wood core, or they're aluminum. They come in various lengths, typically from eight to 16 feet. The dive towers and stands are sold separate from the boards, and they come in many styles and heights, with left, right or dual mount options.

Lifeguard chairs also come in a myriad of styles and height options. Some chairs are anchored, and some are portable with rear legs set into anchor sockets and front legs with locking wheels for easy re-location. Some sit on a pedestal. There are lookout towers that sit at varying heights with railings and chairs featuring 360-degree rotation. Some are designed to be close to the pool edge, or are low-profile for quick exits. Observation chairs are also good for supervision, judging and instruction. Many have umbrella holders. Materials include fiberglass, stainless steel and recycled plastic.

There are many types of ladders, hand rails and grab rails in varying shapes and sizes. A wide array of deck furniture is available—chairs, chaise lounges, tables with umbrellas and benches. Some benches double as lockers or storage units. Stash your pool noodles in the many bins, baskets and caddies that are available. There are portable, rolling bleachers. You'll find drinking fountains and fountain/foot shower combos, plus clocks and thermometers, some with protective cages. Keep your patrons informed with weatherproof message display boards, free-standing or fence-attachable. And all these products come in many colors and materials, including recycled plastic.

Pool covers, solar pool covers and insulating blankets save heating costs, reduce water evaporation and chemical loss, and help keep pools cleaner. They can be custom-tailored to fit any size or shape pool, and come with necessary straps, anchors and bearings. Pool cover storage reels use hand cranks or power-driven electric motors for easy installation, removal and storage. Indoor models can be wall-mounted.

Time for an Update

In 1969, the town of Ogden, Utah, built identical pools at two of their high schools—Ogden High and Ben Lomond (BL) High, and in 2015 it was time for an update.

"They were both at the end of their lifecycle. It was determined to renovate them to have two different styles to draw a more diverse client," said Darwin Smith, construction and energy manager for the Ogden School District. Ogden High Pool became an eight-lane competition pool and BL Pool opened as a six-lane, more family-friendly pool. The former hosts competitive swim teams and clubs, water polo teams and serious lap swimmers. The latter has swim lessons, aerobics classes and open-family swim time in the evenings. Both pools offer lap swimming in the mornings, and there are pool party rentals on Fridays and Saturdays.

"We promote an open water polo time for the public, setting up nets and lanes used for pick-up matches," Smith said, adding that they also purchased an inflatable amenity. "It's been very popular. We rent the pool for parties and the Action Tower is an add-on. It always gets requested. We also have lifts at each pool. They're popular with the aerobics classes for the older ladies."

Other added amenities include new lockers and private showers, bleachers, sound system, scoreboard with protective nets, tables and chairs for parties, picnic tables with umbrellas, and chaise lounges. At BL Pool, Smith said, "We extended the building to add a swimmer staging area and an outside party patio. The pool has a waterslide and basketball hoop. We have one-meter diving boards at each pool." He added that attendance is up and feedback has been great.

Smith also said they love their new swimsuit wringer, which is one of the products that Clifton was excited about: "Water extractors can extract 95 percent of suit water in just a few seconds, helping to keep your swimming areas and locker rooms water-free."

These models use no heat, and rely on spin-drying. But the tried-and-true hand wringers with steel handle and rubber wringers are still popular, too. Hand and hair dryers with swivel nozzles eliminate paper.

Other locker room amenities include an array of benches and lockers, wall-mounted or back-to-back models. Unbreakable mirrors are a must. To generate extra revenue, there are personal product and disposable diaper dispensers. For showers, locker rooms or around pool areas there are flooring tiles or high-traffic aquatic matting, featuring snap-lock assemblage. The skid-resistant floorings are rubber or polypropylene, typically containing mildew inhibitors. They're self-draining, with air and water passing right through.

Don't Forget Safety

Another crucial, though less visible category, is safety products. There are many types of rescue aids—Shepard's crooks, ring buoys with tow-lines and shoulder harnesses, and rescue poles, hooks and throw ropes. There are spine boards, life vests and life vest racks. Emergency oxygen systems, table resuscitators, first-aid kits and first responder bags are important.

You'll find rescue mannequins—infant, adolescent and adult—for aquatic safety training. And shop for lifeguard supplies and apparel, including megaphones, umbrellas, whistles and binoculars.

Even the simplest products can tip the scales when it comes to someone deciding if they want to visit their local pool. If you haven't visited your local facility in a while to see what's changed, it might be time to grab your suit and take the plunge!



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