Feature Article - April 2021
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Water Works

Staying on Top of Aquatic Maintenance

By Dave Ramont

Like many industries, the aquatics industry was significantly impacted by closures brought on by the pandemic. But when some facilities were allowed to reopen, patrons seemed willing to return to the pool, with many facilities reporting that new, limited capacities were often met. Part of the allure seemed to be that visitors understood that pool water was a safer option than some other forms of fitness or entertainment, due to the water chemistry. In fact, the CDC said that they are "unaware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in… treated aquatic venues."

This underscored the importance of proper maintenance at aquatic facilities, from small community indoor pools to large outdoor waterparks. The process to keep the water safe involves constant diligence and knowledge in chemicals, sanitization methods, air handling, mechanical systems and more. And beyond the water there are many other maintenance considerations including the physical pool itself, decks, locker rooms and pool amenities and attractions.

"Too often, maintenance issues arise from budgetary issues, or operators who are not trained to properly run and operate a facility," said Juliene Hefter, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Aquatic Professionals (AOAP), which promotes and advocates policies, practices and procedures that contribute to safer and improved aquatic education, aquatic recreation activities, programs and facilities. One of their offerings is an Aquatic Facility Operator course, which covers all aspects of facility operations, according to Hefter. With regard to maintenance, the course covers such areas as developing equipment lists and setting up the pool system, maintaining the equipment and developing maintenance procedures and protocol.

"Operators must develop daily, weekly and monthly inspection sheets in order to ensure that they're checking all aspects of the facility and equipment based on a schedule, and keeping proper documentation," said Hefter. She pointed out that by visually and physically inspecting all systems regularly, items can be immediately serviced or replaced if there's an issue.

And what about areas where facilities might be maintenance-deficient? "Common areas we see are equipment-based items: stairs, railings, diving boards, lane lines, safety equipment, filters, pumps, chemical feed systems, controllers etc., just to name a few," said Hefter.

Counsilman-Hunsaker is an aquatic planning, design and operations firm. Kevin Post is a principal there, and director of aquatic operations. He suggests that utilizing part-time help can be beneficial for facilities. "There's limited amount of budget as well as personnel associated with maintenance. Some of these big waterparks might only have one maintenance person. Some school facilities have a maintenance guy who maintains the entire school, and he spends one hour a day checking the pool. So how about we use that part-time staff to aid that maintenance person, recognizing for instance that the lifeguards are there all the time, and they're going to be a good set of eyes and ears, and the more you empower them, the more they can help you enhance what you're doing and being more efficient."

In a presentation on Effective Maintenance Management, Post examines why staff might fail at maintenance tasks, explaining that orientation, training, mentoring and motivation are key aspects of success. Maintenance orientation should include new employees of course, but should also occur for everyone at the start of each season. Reviews and weekly and monthly training sessions are important, as is monitoring staff—checking up on work done as well as offering evaluations, recognition and acknowledgement.

Post also stresses the importance of following daily and seasonal inspection schedules, as well as performing preventive maintenance. Daily tasks might include water testing; chemical dosing; backwashing; changing chemical tubing; vacuuming pool; checking and tightening inlet and outlet covers; cleaning skimmer baskets; vacuuming filters and surfaces such as benches and tables; maintaining deck, storage and pump room cleanliness; making sure ladders, steps and lifts are operational. Daily inspection items might include water level; chemical controller readings and system functions; flowmeter; filter pressures; check for chemical feeder leaks and other leaks. It's also important to learn the steps for winterizing and de-winterizing pools.

Preventive maintenance prevents long-term deterioration of equipment and facilities. Depending on the task, this might be done weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or even longer. Some tasks mentioned in Post's presentation include cleaning sensors; cleaning chemical feeders; cleaning amenities such as slides and other play structures; cleaning flowmeter; greasing motor and checking motor gauges. Chemical pumps should be checked weekly to make sure there are no leaks in the feeding tube. Replace the feeder tube in all chemical pumps at least twice a year. If supply lines are hard and brittle or full of chemical deposits, they should be replaced. If the chlorine feeder is full of calcium deposits (about every two months), it should be taken apart and cleaned with acid.

Post's firm offers pool operator training, as well as audit services. "The service is a physical assessment of an existing facility," said Post. "Often we're looking at old facilities and what it takes to bring them up to current code."

A physical audit might include looking at pool structure and finishes; recirculation systems, pipes, fittings and valves; filtration and overflow recovery systems; water chemistry treatment systems; pumps, flowmeters, gauges and all controls; deck equipment and code compliance. Post explained that COVID shutdowns presented opportunities for facilities to examine maintenance issues. "It's a great time to do an audit and do some of this long-term maintenance and plan for the future, since you have time. And now that facilities have been shut down, restarting is a whole different situation, so you might need an audit to check up on your systems."