Aquatics: Planning for a Successful Operation
Part 2: Preseason Readiness
Spring is the time most pool operators really begin to stress. After the laborious planning efforts conducted during the winter months, now is the time the rubber meets the road. How will I get enough staff? Will the equipment I need be backordered? Operators have a lot to do before opening, often with little to no outside support. But, thanks to proper planning, these duties will be completed as efficiently as possible.
March, the month to begin implementing the marketing plan, is also the time to begin preseason preparation, which in general involves three areas: inspection, pool preparation and ordering supplies.
The first step is to inspect facility components and identify what tasks need to be accomplished before opening day. Special consideration should be given to winter or vandalism damage. Items to inspect include:
- Pool shell: Is there evidence of frost heave or freeze damage? Areas to check closely include gutters, coping, walls, expansion joints, light niches, inlets and the main drain. Visible signs of damage include spalling, cracking or a change in elevation.
- Pool deck: Have the concrete slabs shifted, exposing edges that are easy to trip on? Have cracks or areas that will hold water and dirt developed, resulting in a hazardous surface?
- Deck equipment: Is deck equipment clean and in working order? Identify items that need to be repaired or discarded.
- Diving boards, slides and features: Inspect the platform/stands for structural integrity. Any mounting bolts should be tightened and checked for integrity and corrosion. If the stand is metal, it may be appropriate to paint it to protect it from the corrosive properties of pool water. The area just in front of the fulcrum is susceptible to hairline fractures and the mounting brackets need to be inspected.
- Safety equipment: Is required safety equipment—safety ropes, ring buoys, backboards, rescue tubes, first-aid kits and perimeter fencing—in good working order?
- Recirculation system: Inspect the motor and pump for any damage. Does the impeller spin freely? Are the gaskets, valves and gauges in working order? Is there any evidence of a pipe break (water dripping or a visible fracture)? Are all the freeze plugs still in place, or have some been removed where water could get in the lines? Inspect the filter tanks for integrity. Are the supports corroded? Are there any rust spots or pinholes in the system?
- Support areas: Check bathhouse walls, ceilings, windows, skylights, roofs and door jambs for vandalism or freeze damage. Itemize paint requirements. Inspect floors for potential slippery surfaces and sharp edges or objects. Verify that drain grating is securely in place. Inspect the freshwater plumbing system, including the hot water heater, mixing valves, traps and fixtures for any breaks or required maintenance. Inspect the electrical panel and verify that connections are secure and protective covers are in place.
Other areas that require inspection and verification include starting blocks, office and janitorial supplies, chemicals, test kits, administrative forms, keys and tool boxes.
Once all inspections are completed, it's time to prepare the pool for use. An aquatic facility's winter environment greatly affects the amount of preparation and the types of tasks required. Throughout the winter months, pools without covers are a catch-all for leaves, dirt and animals. The pool surfaces have also been attacked by winter elements and must now be restored to operating condition.
Weather can play havoc with the best-laid plans. It's best to start early, be flexible (have a good and bad weather list) and be organized. Nothing is as wasteful as having five employees ready to acid wash, and no one knows where the gas is for the trash pump. For each scheduled job, make a list of tools and supplies needed and verify they are on-site before the job is scheduled to begin. Table 1 provides a partial punch list of items to be completed before opening a pool.
The third component of preseason preparation is ordering supplies. A sample ordering schedule of necessary supplies can be found in Table 2.
It's difficult to step back from the day-to-day demands of operating a pool during the summer to think about next year. There are many issues that are easily addressed during the summer season and almost impossible during the off-season. For example, determine if you have all the pictures you need for next year's marketing material; examine what high-maintenance areas could be improved upon; what landscaping would improve the surroundings and what space is not being utilized to its fullest; determine what new features guests might find exciting and enjoyable; and decide how duties could be structured to hold down labor expenses.
It's also important to conduct a post-season inspection of the physical plant and operating results to identify areas that need attention. Review and reinspect the preseason checklist to prepare for the coming year. In addition, inspect filters, furniture, equipment and inventory supplies. Make a list of required repairs and purchases. Compile administrative reports, such as those on chemical consumption, and look for trends that may require attention. Make a wish list of needed maintenance repairs, new features and renovations. Prioritize and develop a plan to accomplish this list before the coming year.
As a business, outdoor pool facilities are in the unusual position of starting over every year. Through detailed planning, you can pass information and experience from one season to the next while continually improving upon it. Winter is the time when we only work six days a week preparing and planning for the 100 days of summer.