In the months since the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act went into effect, problems have come up and nationwide compliance is still far from complete.
While many reputable firms are busy retrofitting commercial pools, experts say others are doing sloppy work and/or overcharging for services.
“A lot of service techs are seeing money on the table and wanting to get in on it, but they’re not experienced and that’s where the trouble comes in,” said Mike Stinson, owner of Mike the Poolman in Folsom, Calif. “Or pool owners hire people who aren’t licensed and they do the install incorrectly, then a professional has to go in and fix it.”
Such an atmosphere leaves room for price gouging, and both Stinson and Monte Vajnar, co-owner of Sylmar, Calif.-based American Pool & Safety Inc., have heard of such tactics throughout California. But the problems run deeper than issues of workmanship and alleged price gouging.
Many public pool owners and operators are trying to comply; however, others are ignoring the law for a variety of reasons.
“Many, many pool owners are doing nothing,” Stinson said. “They’re calling the bluff of the inspectors because they’ve heard there aren’t enough [personnel] to go around.”
Tom Lachocki said he’s hearing that people are still confused, and there’s a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to enforce the law. “A lot of ambiguity remains over who will enforce the law or, even more sadly, what’s required for compliance,” said Lachocki, who is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Plain, simple economics may be the biggest factor that’s still causing headaches. Retrofits can legitimately cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to $5,000 or more if the renovation is more extensive and includes system tests, engineer’s fees and the like.
That seems to be the case in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun area, where officials say nearly 9,000 semipublic and public pools are affected by the law.
“The main complaint we’re hearing is that many pool owners are stressed by the economy right now,” said Kevin Chadwick, manager of the Water and Waste Management Division, Environmental Services Department. “Apartment owners and HOAs, condo owners and neighborhood pool operators are very concerned about the [retrofitting] expense, though if it improves safety, some said they’re happy to comply.”
Chadwick’s agency enforces Maricopa County codes and state law — not federal law — yet it has felt the pressure of heavy workloads as a direct result of the VGB Act.
Requests for remodeling permits increased sevenfold from June 2008 to June 2009, and he had to add another engineer and assign four inspectors to full-time fieldwork.
In Boston, the 21 pools run by Boston Centers for Youth & Families are in compliance now and the overall price tag was more than $150,000. Most of the retrofits were completed in four months by two professional companies and were relatively simple, such as cover replacements. But some were more involved and one included liner replacement, said Pat McDonough, BCYF facilities manager.
“I understand how the law came into effect,” McDonough said. “The loss of life, you can’t put a price on it. But most federal laws have a two-year window; this had only one year.”