Feature Article - April 2003
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Keeping Up Appearances

Good housekeeping and maintenance strategies for aquatic centers and other rec facilities

By Kelli Anderson

An ounce of prevention

Probably the most common and damaging mistake facilities make is in the area of regular maintenance, especially in the natatorium.

"People wait until things get critical before they fix them," says Mark Basnight, 15-year aquatic coordinator for the City of Chula Vista, Calif.

It is vital to be proactive and to have a preventative maintenance plan, ideally from day one. But even with an older, established facility, it's never too late to start. From regular water testing to systems checks to wiping down the stainless steel, all surfaces and equipment need regularly scheduled attention. Seat-of-the-pants repairs and corrections ultimately take longer and cost more in both money and lost patrons.

Water is a good case in point. When water quality becomes neglected, everything from filtration systems to pool and natatorium surfaces begins to fail. If water is not tested properly and regularly by trained staff who know how to evaluate and counteract (if needed) the various water elements of pH, total alkalinity, total dissolved solids (TDS), temperature and calcium hardness, then disaster akin to the 10 plagues is sure to follow: Surfaces will stain; plaster will peel; tiles will pop off; water will develop algae or grow cloudy; metals will rust; filters will clog; the environment will become irritating to eyes, skin and noses of patrons—you get the idea.

One such nasty culprit is combined chlorine, or chloramine (a free chlorine molecule that attaches itself to a nitrogen- or ammonia-containing compound that can no longer sanitize the water).

"The odor that you smell when you walk into a natatorium is usually caused by chloramines—patrons think the smell indicates excessive chlorine in the water, but that is usually not the case," explains Bob Banker, project manager at Counsilman/Hunsaker and Associates of St. Louis. Banker is well acquainted with the results of poor long-term maintenance. "Chloramines are very aggressive when they become airborne and attack the ferrous metals in the natatorium. For example, if stainless steel in the natatorium is not properly cared for, chloramines will cause pit corrosion and ultimately 'rust' the stainless steel."

Check and Double-Check
Top: Needless damage is done when this pump was improperly installed and seldom, if ever, cleaned. Pumps need to be bolted securely to a poured concrete base and shock pad and regularly cleaned to prevent corrosion. Above left: Plaster stains such as this one are often caused by improper chemical maintenance: pouring into the water too fast, adding them through the heating system or not paying attention to correct water balance, to name a few. Above right: Nip it in the bud: Corrosion of this scale, caused from rebar improperly installed or exposed from pool surfacing damage, should have been dealt with when at the size of a pin-prick.

Checklists are a simple and time-honored way to organize and address all sorts of maintenance issues. Not to mention, completed checklists are also good to keep on file in case of an incident or, of course, to spot trouble before it happens and prevent it efficiently.

While any facility should create its own customized set of checklists, here are some basic topics to cover:

  • Safety inspection areas (weekly, daily, hourly, etc.)
    For example: locker rooms and showers, sinks and toilets, decks and entrances, ladders, drains, pipes, diving boards, slides, lifeguard stands, deck chairs, ropes and floats, pool bottom and sides, signage, lights, hot tubs, beaches, docks.
  • Rescue equipment and first-aid supplies
  • Maintenance tasks (before opening, during operating hours, at closing)
  • Water quality and testing, temperature, pool chemistry, and filtration documentation
  • Chemical and electrical safety issues
  • Staff training
  • Emergency procedures