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Graphic by Nick Orabovic

The weak economy isn’t just affecting public pool facilities. It’s also impacting private facilities. When examining their budgets, public pool managers should consider these money-saving steps being taken on the private side:

  • Reduce part-time hours. Start lifeguards 15 minutes later and let them leave 15 minutes earlier. “When you’re starting to multiply half an hour a day by 100 or 200 people, it becomes a staggering labor number,” says Todd Nelson, president and owner of Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., and Sandusky, Ohio.
  • Invest in energy-saving equipment. On the pool side, reduce electricity costs by using variable frequency drives or “soft starts” on larger motors. “It makes them not run at peak capacity all the time, only when you need it,” Nelson says.

There are also ways to save energy outside the pool, such as using fluorescent light bulbs in offices or installing motion-sensor lights in restrooms. “The little things make a difference,” says Pat Finnegan, vice president of aquatic development at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

  • Automate where possible. Smart-building technology allows automated programs to turn the lights on and off, and to control the building temperature. “Having those building controls has been instrumental in our conservation efforts,” Finnegan says. A staff member also makes daily rounds to double-check that the system performs properly.
  • Shrink a pool. On slower days, take a lane line to reduce the area of the pool that guests can access. This way, only one lifeguard is needed. “You can still safely guard it, but you don’t have to guard all the water because not all the water is being used for guest enjoyment,” Finnegan says.
  • Offer promotional discounts. During the holiday season, Chula Vista offers a special discount for guests who participate in the company’s canned food drive. Last year, the resort collected 3,000 pounds of food for local food banks. “That’s been a successful program for us,” Finnegan says.
  • Add helpful services. Chula Vista recently added a “people dryer” near the park’s exit. For a dollar or two, users are treated to a quick dry under heat lamps in a machine that is shaped like a large telephone booth. “It’s been a huge success,” Finnegan says. “We’ve had 3,000 vends in a little over a month.”
  • Train staff to be energy-efficient. Let employees know when it’s acceptable to turn on the motors, lights and other electric devices in your facility. For example, if the center opens at 10 a.m., most motors don’t need to be switched on until 9:45 a.m. The same is true of fryers in concession areas. “We train our staff on turning on equipment at the appropriate time,” Finnegan says.
  • Be flexible. Some methods, such as reducing the temperature of indoor pools, look good on paper, but fail in practice. When guests complained about the colder water temperatures, for example, Kalahari Resorts raised them to original levels. The key is listening to user feedback. “The guests tell you right away,” Nelson says.