Feature Article - October 2020
Find a printable version here

Mix It Up

Innovative Accessories Help Pools Expand Programming

By Rick Dandes

Other water program ideas include underwater hockey and underwater rugby. Berkshire recalls a city calling him and wanting to do [frozen] pumpkin races in a pool. "Battleship is big at the university level, where teams get into canoes and they have buckets of water. They throw the water to try and sink the other team's battleship, the canoe. The only rule is you can't bail out water from your own canoe. You are simply trying to sink the other battleship."

For triathlon training, rather than the standard lanes, Berkshire positioned four corners of buoys so that people who are training for open water swim can swim circles and never have a wall to touch. "People told us that in an open-water swim, you don't know where you are at, so we looked at the pool and said we could put a small wave machine in to make choppy water, put in jets from lazy rivers on the side of the pool to have cross currents to blow the swimmer off track. We had a dark bottomed pool so that you wouldn't have lane lines to show where you are going."

Pandemic Programming

During COVID-19, people across the United States have gotten reacquainted with the outdoors as indoor gatherings were restricted and eliminated, Ozburn said. "Outdoor recreational activities skyrocketed, and water sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding have become even more popular. People who never participated in a water activity suddenly became interested. Swim lessons and swim education were modified, and even went digital."

Swim teams incorporated technology that allowed coaches to talk to swimmers in the water, she continued, which allowed for continued practice and development. This phenomenon may have changed how people view water and outdoor activities and incorporating these new methods into a curriculum may be a new way forward as a standard curriculum.

"Classes where guardians teach their children is one such option," Ozburn explained. "Similar to a Masters swimming or mom-and-tot class, an adult could learn to teach swimming techniques and learn a new skill while an instructor teaches from the deck. Kayakers could learn barrel rolls in the slide catch pool to learn a new safety technique. New fishermen and fisherwomen could learn to cast in waders in the lap pool."

Rethinking how and who can utilize the clean, controlled and available spaces can increase usability and create that dynamic and active pool, she said. "Following local trends and successes is one way to keep the facility exciting, but that is not to the detriment of those core programs. Assessing programs at the end of the session or end of the season is recommended so that unsuccessful classes that take up pool time and space do not limit the potential for successful classes."

Health & Safety

You can add all the accessories you want to an aquatic facility, but if you want to entice people to come back at pre-pandemic levels, it all starts with a clean pool facility, said Mike Fowler, commercial sales manager for a Sanford, N.C., manufacturer of aquatic equipment and water treatment solutions. "Most importantly, during this time of COVID-19, if the facility is not maintained and cleaned properly, the word will get out via social media."

The first thing to keep in mind is you have to keep the water as safe as possible, Fowler said, although the CDC has said there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs or water play areas. "But the pool area and accessories must be as properly sanitized as possible," he said. If you've upgraded your sanitization, let people know, he added. "People should know they have added UV to their system or ozone to their system to help ensure that the water is the safest that it can be."

The virus does not spread through water, Fowler said, "it's spread through people," so facilities need to do their part—maintaining their chemicals and filter systems, backwashing properly and so on.

"From a safety standpoint, make sure the rails are tight, and they are cleaned," he added. "The deck area and the chairs all must be cleaned as well."

From here on out, whether it is a month from now or a year from now, people are going to have COVID and cleanliness on their minds.

For decades pools have been focused on safety, Ozburn said, both in the water and out. "COVID-19 has added another layer to that vigilance by requiring increased cleaning, sanitization and social distancing," she said. "For many pools, this presented an increased challenge and need for logistical changes."

Controlling or reducing the number of patrons at a given time was a primary method of enforcing social distancing, she explained. "For some, that meant reducing occupancy to 10% to 50% of the maximum occupancy, while for others it was to assign a water square footage per person."

Berkshire has a suggestion about over-crowding. "There are cameras we can put up around an aquatic center that can pick up if there is a density of population," he said. "If there are too many people, this system can automatically trigger an audio announcement, asking people to maintain proper distancing."

Other options to encourage social distancing are to have swimmers sign up for a swim time and cap the number of swimmers at a time, and to remove or spread out deck chairs so they are appropriately distanced from one another, Ozburn said.

She added some other suggestions facilities have implemented over the past, shortened season. "Features that could not avoid a close congregation of users had limited use or were taken off-line, and others, such as large slides, marked off standing locations on the stair- well," she said. "Lazy rivers had sign-up times and tubes were removed so that equipment did not have to be cleaned after each use. To encourage distancing and reduce points of contact, floor markers of varying materials, including chalk, were placed on the ground to notate where people should stand, and prepaid or cashless payment options were required."

Easily identifiable and universally understood signage, website and social media information campaigns also play a role in helping patrons adhere to new guidelines. RM