Trends in Pool Renovations
Extending the life of your pool doesn't mean you have to start from scratch. Using smart strategies and innovations can make all the difference in getting your pool into tip-top shape. By establishing a set of goals and conducting a thorough assessment of your facility, you can renovate your pool successfully—without breaking the bank.
One of the most important steps in planning for a pool renovation is doing a facility assessment. Maddie Monroe, a project manager at aquatic design and engineering firm Counsilman-Hunsaker, stressed the importance of meeting with staff and finding out what issues there are with the pool.
"What is the scale of the renovation? It gives us an idea of where the pool is at, how old the pool is. We can comment better on the situation when we've been to the facility," Monroe said, adding that many pools are 30-plus years old, and a full mechanical replacement can extend the life of the pool. You will "not only extend the life of the pool, but things are so much more efficient, and [you can] save a lot of energy costs."
In terms of the scope of a pool renovation, it really depends on the goals. Some facilities "need to limp along for five more years and then build a new facility." [They might want to know,] "'What do we need to maintain for five more years?' and then build a new one. Some want a 20-year solution," she said.
Similarly, Robbie Hazelbaker, project director at Water Technology Inc. (WTI), an aquatic planning, design and engineering firm based in Beaver Dam, Wis., said to "Work closely with staff. They have a story to tell."
Find out "What are the programming roadblocks with their current pool? What is their interest level for a renovation vs. new pool construction? Is city leadership/board of management/school board anticipating one or the other? What type of funding might be available and from what source(s)," he said, adding that you also need to conduct pool shell evaluations and look for cracks, horizontal/vertical and diagonally, as well as evaluate tile conditions.
To ensure that the ideas are constructible before they are presented, it's important to first check with a local pool contractor. "Present them to staff for reaction and be flexible to make adjustments. Assist staff in presenting the vetted ideas to their organization/leadership," Hazelbaker said.
What's more, educating pool operators about strategies they can use to extend the life of their pool can be helpful. For example, simply wiping down stainless steel regularly can prevent corrosion, and "draining your pool and doing an interior scrub, especially if you have tile," Monroe noted. "That will dramatically increase the life of your pool because plaster needs to be replaced and tile needs to be grouted. When those maintenance items get slipped by, whenever you do a major renovation, it will be that much [more] severe."
In some cases, older pools have fewer problems than newer ones simply because of good consistent maintenance.
"These facilities drain [their pools] every other year and regrout," and keep up with mechanical replacements and keep chemicals at a good level, she said. "There are pools we walk into that are five years old and the stainless steel is already corroded. A lot of these renovations are about educating."
Another strategy is observing water clarity, noted Jennifer Gerber, business development leader at Water Technology Inc. (WTI). "Many aging pools can benefit from updating to regenerative media filtration. Water usage is an important consideration in the operation of swimming pools. Contributors to water usage include evaporation, bather carry out, splash out and backwash," she said.
"Control of water usage is important because of the operational efforts placed into the water, including chemical treatment, balance and heating. Utilizing regenerative media (RM) filtration, it is possible to reduce backwash loss by over 90%," Gerber explained. "These filters represent a capital investment premium, but one which the client would be given the information to make informed decisions regarding the value of this investment."
Some of the benefits to updating to RM filters include:
- Payback in two to five years.
- Reduces water consumption dramatically (325,000 gallons/year).
- Eliminates the need for backwash tank.
- Improves water clarity for safer lifeguarding.
- Reduces sanitation chemical usage.
- Reduces water heating demands.
- Fully automated, reducing labor.
- Saves space in pool equipment room.
Aaron Darcy, marketing director for a swimming pool contractor in Indianapolis, noted an important renovation strategy is to "set out clear goals for what you want to achieve. A number of factors, including urgency, scope of work and budget, will play key roles in what's possible at a facility."
In addition, "Consider timing your pool renovation to get the most out of your budget; specialty aquatic renovation firms usually offer attractive discounts for work that can be performed in their summer and winter 'off seasons,'" he said. "Make sure you understand what problems need to be solved. If leaks are the issue, it's worth spending time to evaluate everything from the pool shell to the recirculation system, as gutters and main drains can often be hidden sources of water loss."
Dennis Berkshire, president of Aquatic Design Group, a full-service aquatic architecture and engineering firm in Carlsbad, Calif., said that a renovation often involves having to deal with equipment and materials that are nearing or at the end of their lifecycle.
"We have to balance the facility needs with budget and programming," he said. "We often ask the questions: What do we have to do? What should we do? What could we do?
"A typical approach is to bring the facility into a 'like-new' condition after the renovation is completed," he said. "A common issue [is] the conditions at the facility that met code requirements at the time it was constructed, but do not meet current code requirements. These conditions are considered grandfather approved conditions. Depending on the renovation, the local authority having jurisdiction may allow the conditions to continue to be grandfather approved, and in other cases, they may require the conditions to be upgraded to comply with current codes."
Besides the "health department or building department making this call, some facilities may turn to their risk managers to also determine if the conditions that do not meet current code should be allowed to remain," Berkshire said. "By allowing them to remain, is the facility taking on added liability in the event of an accident and lawsuit? A typical litmus test to determine if a grandfather condition can be allowed to remain or must be upgraded is to determine if the condition can readily be addressed in the renovation with the current scope. If so, then it should be upgraded. If it cannot be readily addressed and if it is not a significant health or safety concern, then it can be allowed to remain."
Finally, he said that strategies for renovation often include items to make the operation more reliable or more efficient, to reduce operating expenses and maintenance labor, to automate systems, to comply with current codes and standards, to better serve programming, to modernize the facility and to prepare the facility for the next 20 years of operation.
To extend the life of a pool, "Starting from scratch is often not the only option available. Demolition and reconstruction is costly and time-consuming, with most facilities losing out on one or more seasons of operation while the work is performed," Darcy said. "By comparison, modern aquatic renovations can be completed in as little as five days for a pool or deck resurface, and a few weeks for a stainless steel or PVC gutter system refit."
Because of the "advances in how textures are embossed directly into the PVC, material with much greater slip-resistance can be installed in higher risk areas such as steps, zero-depth entries and even the pool deck," he added.
For those renovations that include a new perimeter gutter system, there are leading pool renovation firms that offer a solution that eliminates the need for unsightly compression strips along the inside of the pool. "This creates a cleaner, more unified finish. … Improvements in color stability and the addition of UV inhibitors, fading and discoloration [are] less of a concern with modern PVC pool membranes," Darcy said.
To modernize a facility, you can take advantage of the current advances in materials, equipment and technology.
"Modern pools are designed and built with deeper water for safer diving," Berkshire said. "In some cases, we can modify the pool gutter or water to deck detail to get added depth to support safer diving or competitive venues like swim meet racing start depths and water polo fields of play," he said. "Some old pools have deep ends that are no longer adequate to support diving boards but too deep for recreation programs. By shallowing the deep end of the pool, we can better serve programming and at the same time reduce the overall water volume, increasing the pool water turnover time and reducing operating expenses. In other cases, shallowing a pool can bring the pool into compliance with the existing main drain piping to comply with VGB federal suction entrapment law."
In addition, there are many modern pools that have stairs either inside the pool perimeter or outside of the swim areas. "These stairs can be a secondary means of ADA access in the pool and part of a universal design making the pool more accessible to everyone. Adding stairs to an existing pool can be an easy and relatively inexpensive way to modernize a pool," Berkshire said.
Yet another way to reconfigure an existing pool to better serve programming and reduce staff and supervision requirements is through moveable bulkheads and pool floors.
"Pool mechanical systems offer many opportunities to renovate and upgrade operations," he said, noting some examples.
- Variable frequency drive systems not only save money, but can be configured with soft starts to get longer motor life. "When these VFDs are connected to a smart control, it can measure a pump's performance and even slow the motor down to prevent cavitation and protect the pump and motor," he explained.
- "New swimming pool condensing pool heaters are up to 98% thermal efficient, which reduces the operating expenses and lessons the carbon footprint.
- "Automated controls are now available that have a coordinated control of the pool circulation, filtration chemical feed, chemical storage and other operations in the pool. These systems can be tied to an ethernet connection, which means the operating data login and control are now available via computers, smartphones and smart tablets."
Meanwhile, Hazelbaker recommended addressing "all failing systems from gutters to filters to chemical systems, including updating and replacing these critical mechanical systems. Updating filtration can improve the operational life of the pool."
And, Pete Tarnapoll, CPO of a Florida-based swimming pool contractor, noted that his company's modular, engineered system "allows you to target the refurbishment to the specific areas that are failing. Structural refurbishment of the pool can be accomplished using the capacity of the existing structure. This allows communities to plan for affordable refurbishment."
Improving Value to the Community
Updating aquatic facilities can be done on a large or small scale. "Whether you're swapping out a floatable or installing a new waterslide, the first step is to understand the users' needs and the budget that is in place," Gerber said. "Feature updates, deck resurfacing and even fresh paint on support buildings can have a significant impact on the facility's overall appearance and usership."
Drew Ford, sales manager at a Paola, Kan.-based company that specializes in waterslides and waterpark attractions, added that "This mentality and approach can be applied to aquatic play features and waterslides as well. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for an existing waterslide. By resealing the waterslide, it will continue to operate smoothly, without leaks and ensuring a smooth ride for each rider.
"Facility additions can create excitement for park attendees. Whether adding onto an existing tower, creating a new one or swapping out other features like a diving board for a slide, the facility will benefit from amenities that target the tweens and teens," Ford said. "There are options for all age groups, and feature additions or replacements can balance the park's amenity package substantially."
Gerber added that "Park operators and design professionals can work together to update or create a theme for the park: Renaming the pools, slides and zones, incorporating new colors can serve to tie together these aesthetic updates for visitors."
And, to gain the facility some online visibility, social media is key. It "can be a great opportunity to let the community weigh in on the new theme. Social media posts can be used to continue to support the new theme and drive park attendance," Gerber said.
Another way to improve value is to include more features. "Facilities built in the '30s and '40s [had] really large pools, but [there were] not a lot of things to do," Monroe said, noting an example of an existing facility that added spraygrounds to enhance play value. A diving board and climbing walls can add value, too. And, "You get an ROI, and draw so many more people."
It's clear that pool renovations can make a big difference for an aquatic facility, in the short-term or long-term.
One example of a successful pool renovation includes The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a Manhattan college within the City University of New York system. The college is housed in Haaren Hall—built in 1903. The facility includes the world's largest criminal justice library, a swimming pool, classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, a theater and a gym.
Counsilman-Hunsaker provided the aquatic design and engineering services for the pool renovation. The 15,000-square-foot Haaren Hall Natatorium has a 25-yard pool with five lap lanes and depths that range from 4 feet to 13.4 feet. The $5.75-million renovation, completed in 2019, consisted of the demolition and replacement of the existing finishes, replacement of floor markers and wall targets, upgrades to the pool equipment, and related mechanical and electrical work. In addition, the renovated pool mechanical room houses new pool filter equipment, heating and chemical system, steel pit covers and an epoxy coated floor, according to information from Counsilman-Hunsaker.
Other renovations included the men's and women's locker rooms, storage/lifeguard/faculty changing room, pool equipment room, small storage room, small adjacent office and a new air-cooled condenser. A new suspended teak ceiling was installed to frame the pool's spectator viewing window, while a band of porcelain tiles was added above the current white glazed-block walls. What's more, the entire pool shell and floor was re-clad in mosaic tile with multi-colored accents. Cost savings were achieved through the re-use of the stainless-steel gutter, concrete pool shell, surge tank and backwash pit.
Hazelbaker shared a renovation example of the Cherry Park Pool in Weatherford, Texas, which cost $1.6 million to renovate vs. $2.5 million or more to fully replace. The original pool shell from 1949 was structurally sound and was kept intact. WTI's engineering team designed a pool within the existing pool shell to reduce construction expense. The construction team then was able to dig around the existing concrete pool shell and add in new plumbing. Additional concrete was poured inside the pool shell to build within it. The new pool now features six lap lanes and an attached zero-depth entry area with a play structure. The multipurpose pool provides space for lap swimming to take place concurrently with family swim and splash hours for younger users. What's more, a small spray pad was added to the site for additional recreation opportunities.
Lastly, Berkshire shared details of a recent renovation at the Balboa Pool for the San Francisco Parks and Recreation department. The indoor pool and facility originally were built in 1956. Issues that the pool had were identified to be rectified as part of the modernization renovation: The pool scum-gutter drained to waste; the pool deck sloped to the back of the pool bond beam; the pool gutter system lacked a surge tank; the pool operated on an 8-hour turnover rate; the natatorium lacked an HVAC system; the pool decks were structural slabs over service spaces around the pool, which made renovation of the decks more complicated; the pool finish was failing; the pool was 100-feet-long and 50-feet-wide, which did not serve desired programs; the pool lacked VGB-compliant drains; and lacked floor inlets as required by code.
"As a solution we added a toping slope to the deck so they could drain away from the pool," Berkshire said. "The scum-gutter was reconfigured to add water depth to the pool and provide proper skimming."
Other solutions included the following:
- The floor plumbing was installed.
- New mechanical equipment was installed.
- A new surge tank was installed to allow the pool gutters recirculate the pool water.
- The raised bond beam of the pool was eliminated to provide proper access to the pool.
- New HVAC was installed in the natatorium.
- New wall glazing added natural light to the space.
- A moveable gutter was installed to provide 25-yard swim lanes and to bifurcate the pool area for lap and fitness use with simultaneous recreation programs on the other side of the bulkhead.
- Walk-in stairs were installed to provide universal and ADA access.
"The pool and natatorium part of the project was completed for just under $2.5 million. The pool was able to operate at over a 30% savings in utility and operating expense," he said. "The pool revenue has increased with new opportunities the pool layout and amenities offer." RM