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

Gimme a break
In Westminster, Colo., the
assistant aquatics manager
conducts a routine check of the
ozone system.

Then there's just the benefits of giving the systems and the staff a break. While major changes like carpet replacement or replastering a pool surface take place, a shutdown period gives an opportunity for staff to schedule a vacation, to let their hair down and work together in their grubbies, or to work without the cumbersome hazard concerns that trying to work around patrons can raise.

Although annual shutdowns have their advantages, there are the very real concerns of loss of revenue during that period and the worry that patrons will be too inconvenienced. When possible, shutting down separate systems to do regular maintenance while letting the rest of the facility function is certainly a good thing.

"Some facilities will prefer to do it in phases," Barton acknowledges, "but when we've done it, it's not as effective. We annually resurface our gym floors, which are oil-based, and it causes a lot of fumes and smells— we had a catastrophe one year with a wedding reception when there was a miscommunication."

However, she does know of some facilities that offset the inconvenience to patrons by teaming up and trading off pool usage with another facility in the city or even in a neighboring city.

To help fund the shutdown, it is also essential to budget for it and to have a capital expenditures plan.

"Particularly as a facility gets older," Barton says, "it's one of those things you can plan for in your 10-year capital plan and estimate when this piece of equipment needs to go or when you need to change out water."

As to how long and when a shutdown should occur, it is usually the slowest season that wins the draw, and the duration varies according the level of maintenance needed—as few as two days to a more lengthy two weeks. Facilities try to keep the shutdown time roughly the same each year with additional time added only for bigger once-in-a-while projects like regrouting.

For a 10-year-old fitness facility organization like Life Time Fitness, which has been hitting the market like gangbusters, having an operational plan that includes a faithfully followed maintenance plan helps to keep their facilities unique in the industry.

"We pride ourselves on paying attention to the details," says Mark Brown, senior vice president of operations at corporate headquarters of Life Time Fitness in Eden Prairie, Minn. "How we maintain these facilities is absolutely critical, and it's the people that make the difference."

Tips of the Trade

Veterans in the maintenance wars and those who are still in the trenches can offer up a lot of tips and savvy shortcuts to make the maintenance battle a little less painful for staff and less disruptive for guests. Here's just a sample:

Hire out Contract out big projects like repainting instead of trying to strong-arm an unwilling front-desk staff. Chances are, they won't be happy doing the job, and you won't be happy with the job they do.

Color code Keep the number of colors used in the facility manageable (read: few) and keep track of what colors have been used where. When it comes time to touchup or add a new coat of paint, it'll be easier to match the right color to the right area.

Double-up Whenever possible, double-up on system pumps and materials to keep in reserve for those inevitable times when something breaks or shuts down. Having extra parts on hand saves time in sending out for repairs and keeps system shutdown time minimal.

Plan ahead Do an evaluation of the likely life-span of a material or system and plan to have replacement parts on-hand or to have money set aside for those eventual repairs or replacements.

Schmooze Keep learning about what's happening in the industry and from the successes and especially the mistakes of others.

Copy Cat If you're a municipal facility, pay attention to the kinds of pumps and systems used in other parts of the city—it'll save the pump, HVAC or other crews from having to learn multiple systems, it'll save time and money in stocking identical system parts for repairs and (sometimes) the systems may be an improvement over an industry standard as the City of Chula Vista discovered: The brand of pumps used throughout the city are a self-priming variety, and when they were installed for the pools (as opposed to the industry's turbine pumps normally used), they did not require the usual pump pits or necessitate cutting holes in the ceiling for installation.