Feature Article - February 2007
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

By Jessic Royer Ocken


"A facility is only as good as the scheduled maintenance on it," said Carter of Appalachian State University. "You've got to constantly brush, brush, brush and drop in automated vacuums at night. Your goal is crystal-clear water, to see from the deck to the bottom constantly."

Fortunately, this task is much simpler than it used to be, as there are new cleaning gadgets hitting the market all the time. Whether it's a remote-controlled and battery-operated pool vacuum, a floating skimmer that takes the backbreaking labor out of that task or a handheld suction tool that sucks up sand and grit in pools and hot tubs without even requiring patrons to leave the water, you've got little excuse for a dirty pool these days.

And you may even be able to get some help with this. "Sometimes what we see is, especially if it's a city or a parks and recreation department, the department of public works may expand on their end to take care of maintenance at the pool—vacuuming, cleaning the filters, doing the chemicals," said Schamberger of Burbach Aquatics. "Then the pool staff and manager may hire the lifeguarding staff and handle water safety instruction and the food court. It depends on the size of the community and what their budget can handle. We try to be very careful about planning so that if it's a smaller population or environment they can get by with minimal staff. You don't want to bring in more people than they need, as that drives the cost up."

So this is yet another aspect of running an aquatic center that should be considered from the very beginning. "Maintenance issues are discussed at three times," Burbach noted. "First, in the [planning] study, we explain the procedures. The second time is during design. The client may want certain items to be low-maintenance or more complex. The third time is when the project is handed over to the contractor."

As Burbach likely explains in the second maintenance discussion, the materials you choose will also make a difference in your maintenance schedule.

"We have a ceramic tile deck, which should last a lifetime," Carter said. And the pool is ceramic tile as well, giving it a life span of 25 to 30 years. "With plaster pools, about every four to seven years you have to redo them. For an outdoor painted pool it's about every year. The chemicals break it down."

Sometimes special conditions create special maintenance needs. "We do shut down for a week between Christmas and New Year's to pressure-wash the ductwork and beams," explained Maintenance Supervisor Dan Stover about the indoor/outdoor Municipal Pool in Las Vegas. "We're right next to a freeway, so we get road exhaust and dirt."

And then there are the decks, which get pressure-washed a whole lot more frequently than that. "With it being an indoor/kind-of-outdoor facility, the sun doesn't help dry [the deck]. We tend to grow mold and algae," Stover said. "We clean the deck drains out a lot, and we clean the pool every day, either with a robotic vacuum, or it's hand-cleaned by the staff. Then there are the general things you'd do for any pool—tightening nuts and bolts on the hand rails and diving boards."

The little tasks you do (or should do) daily and weekly not only keep your facility looking clean, they're also likely to prolong the life of your investment. At the Midlothian Park District pool, monitoring the pool's sanitizer is one of the manager's duties, and chemical levels are recorded on a sheet, which in turn is left for the person in charge of the next shift.

"We also do general housekeeping every day," Knapp noted. "When the staff arrives each morning they skim the pool. We get seeds and flies and leaves."

If it's been windy or stormy overnight, she also has staff police the deck for any overturned trash cans or garbage lying around.