Jim Harrelson is responsible for pools and facilities maintenance for Kinston/Lenoir County Parks and Recreation in North Carolina.
Jim Harrelson is responsible for pools and facilities maintenance for Kinston/Lenoir County Parks and Recreation in North Carolina.

I get irritated when I see pretty pictures of aquatics facilities and then think about the equipment rooms, aka dungeons, which is the reality for many of us.

Thirty years ago I developed the opinion that anyone who designs a facility should be required to spend at least three years doing hands-on maintenance work before they’re turned loose on the world. This is especially true where pools are concerned. The hope is that if they had to experience some of the headaches created by others, they might start seeing things from a different point of view. As a pool and facility maintenance professional, I’m responsible for water quality, mechanical systems and general repair. A lot of my time is spent in the equipment rooms.

What follows is a list of my thoughts derived over 33 years of experience. I also would stress that it’s important for designers not to allow planning to be limited to the minimum health code requirements, but instead create the best possible environment for the professionals who will be working in it.

Equipment rooms should have space. Lots of space. There cannot be too much space. Allow for future changes and additions from the start.

At every facility I maintain, it is necessary to drive through busy parking lots and play areas to reach the equipment rooms. A private service road would be ideal. The area outside of the room should be fenced off so only maintenance personnel have access. Vehicles should be able to park within 15 feet of the door. This area needs to be large enough for a tractor trailer to maneuver easily to deliver chemicals.

At one location where I work, the chemical truck has to park on the public patio to get close enough to pull 100-foot hoses containing liquid chlorine and sulfuric acid across the hall leading to the pools. Although I post warning signs and stand guard, people still manage to step on the hose and trip.

At other facilities, we sometimes have to locate people to have them move their vehicles so the chemical truck can get through. In both of our older pools, the chemicals have to be rolled up and down steps. Removing large pumps and motors for repair can be strenuous.

All equipment should be inside the building. If more than one building is necessary, insist that each building be completely independent of the others as far as power and controls. At our new facility, all the power and motor controls for one building are located in a different building. If a breaker trips or a pump has to be turned off, it is necessary to walk half way across the waterpark to reset them. The door must be big enough for the largest piece of equipment to pass through and also allow for future changes. When the filters were replaced at our oldest pool, the door frame had to be removed, and the steps and ground outside the door had to be dug up to be able to move everything in and out.

Equipment room access from the pool deck level should be designed with standard-sized stairs and a minimum 40-inch-wide door. No ladders, no hatches. At our oldest pool, access to the deck is through a small hatch or by walking around to the front entrance. This is especially aggravating when adding chemicals directly into the pool. In other cases, the pumps are located 5 feet below grade and accessed by short-space steps that make it difficult to maneuver.

The room floor should be far enough below the water level in the pool to ensure that the pumps are in a constant flood condition to help prevent loss of prime. Pumps should be at least 18 inches off the floor to avoid water splash.

The room should be sized so that there is at least 6 feet of clear space around all the equipment and not less than 3 feet between individual components for ease of maintenance. Extra space should be planned as well for replacement of larger items such as filters and heaters.

The ceiling height of the room should not be less than 12 feet to allow for overhead piping. From 8 feet on up, the walls and ceiling should be painted with a high-gloss white to increase light reflectivity. The walls from 8 feet down should be a flat or semi-gloss white. Light colors really do help fight some of the gloom. I also color code all of the piping in the room with pastel colors, such as light grays and greens. It helps to identify the purpose of each pipe and reduces visual clutter. Even if all of the piping is white PVC, it’s surprising how much of a difference a smooth, consistent color can make.

The floor should be properly sloped with efficient drainage. No puddle spots allowed! None of the floors in any of my facilities, especially the new ones, have properly sloped floors. The water seems to go everywhere except to the drains.

Ideally, there should be a testing counter with drawers and a sink. All controllers, meter and gauge displays should be mounted at this location. A testing counter makes life a lot easier. It’s a good place to store information and keep the test logs. To meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, there should be an emergency eye wash close to the chemical storage room. Not outdoors and especially not where the public can play with it!

In most cases, decisions regarding design are being made by people sitting in an office who never look beyond the pretty picture. Architects and engineers know how large the pipes and pumps need to be to move a certain amount of water, but they have no idea what it takes to live with it every day. Personally, I would rather have half as much done right, than twice as much done wrong. All you’ll get is twice as much headache.