Feature Article - February 2011
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Maintenance Series: Gymnasiums

Beauty and the Beast: Maintaining Your Gym

By Dawn Klingensmith

Among folks who maintain gymnasiums, "It's understood that bleachers are the beast, and not caring for them properly is cause for concern," said Grant Warner, CEO, Sports Facilities Group, Riverside, Calif.

By contrast, basketball backstop systems are often installed and operated with no maintenance plan whatsoever. "With the ceiling-mounted ones that fold up and down, you have thousands of pounds hanging over people's heads," Warner said.

Should the system fail, "It's like a pendulum and a guillotine," he added.

Basketball backstops are perhaps the most overlooked maintenance responsibility; still and all, a bleacher system is indeed a beast that can potentially cause injury to a lot of people.

The Beast

So let's start with the beast. What do maintenance and operations directors, custodial staff and sometimes even patrons need to know about keeping the beast in top form?

More than you realize, perhaps. Warner said California regulations regarding bleacher and grandstand inspection, maintenance and repair may eventually apply in other states if not across the board for safety reasons. The guidelines, adopted in 2007, state that any school district, municipality or government agency must have telescoping bleachers and stationary grandstands inspected on a yearly basis; file an annual report of their condition; and maintain these seating systems in like-new condition. These guidelines further state this work is to be performed by a qualified person or an individual certified by the manufacturer.

In California, and perhaps elsewhere now and in the future, failure to follow these guidelines could expose a facility to costly litigation should someone be injured on poorly maintained or non-inspected systems.

Indeed, proper upkeep, repairs, renovations and installing non-skid surfaces on bleacher floorboards, stairs and walkways would reduce slips and trips, two of the leading causes of injuries in school bleachers, according to Massamont Insurance Agency, Greenfield, Mass. The agency recommends replacing older bleacher systems if possible as opposed to retrofitting them with safety features.

While Warner calls California's regulations "convoluted," you'd be wise for starters to simply follow the bleacher manufacturer's guidelines for care and maintenance, he said. And it's not just bleachers but the gymnasium as a whole that ought to be inspected annually to ensure the facility is safe and necessary repairs are undertaken. Seating systems, basketball backstops, divider curtains and sports surfaces all require regular maintenance. So, too, do scoreboards but generally to a lesser extent. It is typically more cost-effective to keep on top of regular, preventive maintenance than it is to pay for repairs.