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After a long winter, it’s time to wake the hibernating swimming pool and rouse it for the upcoming summer season. And as every operator knows, that requires more than just pulling leaves out with a skimmer and turning everything back on.

“There’s such a plethora of things that have to happen,” before opening the gates to the public, says Lee Yarger, coordinator of aquatics at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

This plethora of activity can range from sweeping leaves out of the locker room to lubricating motor parts to replastering an entire pool. As Memorial Day rounds the corner, the public is ready for swim season. Are you? Here’s everything you need to know to start the season off right.

STARTING UP

  • He who closed the pool, opens the pool. “How you open the pool for the season depends on how properly it was closed down in the first place,” says Alison Osinski, Ph.D., president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego. The person who closed the pool knows what was done and where everything is. If this person cannot be present, he or she should have left a list and map where everything was placed. Equipment, nuts and bolts, chemicals, and the like should be visibly labeled and stored in an organized manner.
  • Get an early start. Give yourself at least a month before opening day to fire up the pool, experts say. If budgets don’t allow for a month, take no less than three weeks. “Conduct inventory and surveys months earlier,” Osinski advises. She says this is a recurring problem, and suppliers can vouch for it. “How many people call the week before opening day and need 900 lifeguard swimsuits because it never occurred to them to order swimsuits for their staff?” she asks. Draw up a to-do list to follow each year. The list should include turning on utilities, requesting chemical deliveries, checking inventory, and budgeting for repairs and replacements.
  • Follow the law. Make sure your facility is meeting any new requirements. Get a current copy of the bathing code in case the facility did not receive one.

MAINTENANCE AND CHEMISTRY

  • Uncover it. If there’s a pool cover, clean and dry it before putting it away in its proper storage area. If there’s no cover, think about getting one for the winter season, Osinski says. Having a cover will minimize the number of items, ranging from furniture to animals, that fall in throughout the winter.
  • Clean it out. If a pool was left undrained and uncovered in the winter, it’s likely there’s a soup of leaves and dead critters in it. “Frogs, mice, rats, muskrats, snakes … either in the gutter system or dead in the pool,” Yarger notes. Again, the best way to avoid these circumstances is to cover the pool.
  • If necessary, start from scratch. Drain the pool, but make sure the hydrostatic relief valves are open, Yarger warns. Located on the pool floor or main drain, the valves relieve pressure the groundwater puts on the vessel. Otherwise, “you can literally float the pool out of the ground,” he says, citing a university pool that once floated 3 feet above the pool deck before shattering.
  • Do a ground check. Shifts in the ground and temperature changes can cause plaster to crack and leaks to form, says Farhad Madani, outgoing president of the National Recreation & Park Association’s Aquatic Branch. Schedule paint and plaster jobs at least three weeks in advance. Tiles also should be fixed or replaced before filling the pool. Scrub the pool sides and floor. If the surface is epoxy-painted, power-wash to clean the surface.
  • Flush it out. Lines may have water that’s been sitting in them all winter, or be filled with antifreeze. Flush the filters to avoid introducing stagnant water or unwanted chemicals into the fresh pool. This is one step many people forget, Yarger says. And make sure the antifreeze used to winterize is for pools, not cars, cautions Wolfram Hartwig, Ph.D., consultant for Worldwide Pool Consulting in Ottawa, Ill. That mistake has caused more than one pool’s water to turn a lurid green.
  • Inspect the lines. Replace chemical lines. Drained pools normally need replacement tubes every year because cold weather tends to put stress on tubes, and their lack of use causes brittleness.
  • Grease the wheel. If they haven’t been moved all winter, sometimes parts need to be replaced, Madani says. One way to avoid a stuck motor and pump is to turn them on every week or biweekly during the off-season. Greasing and turning them keeps them from rusting into place.
  • Find a proper media. See if the filter media is still good and full. Inspect the laterals for cracks. Broken ones should be replaced because they can cause filter media to escape into the pool. Every few years, replace the media.
  • Add water and run. If there’s no water in the pool, fill it. This is the ideal time to check for leaks and ensure that the equipment is running smoothly. Add liquid chlorine to protect the water in the meantime, Hartwig says. Household bleach is perfectly fine, but it’s only half the strength and costs more. Backwash regularly and keep the pool equipment running.
  • Take a chemistry test. Run a full water test for calcium hardness, alkalinity, chlorine and pH levels. Calibrate the automatic system to make sure it synchronizes with the chemical performance. See if the probes are clean. Some manufacturers recommend replacing probes on an annual basis.

SAFETY

  • Take a walk. “Do a complete assessment of the facility,” Madani says. Check that entrance gates and fences are secure. Fill any holes in the grassy areas. Make sure the irrigation system is operating properly, and repair any leaks or broken parts. Have large trees trimmed and well-maintained. Follow local codes to make sure the facility is up to par.
  • Check signs. Make sure signs are clear, clean and up-to-date. Clean depth markers and replace any missing signs.
  • Scrub the deck. Give the deck a good power-wash. “Treat the deck as an extension of pool water,” Yarger says. “If there’s algae on the deck, there’s algae in the pool.” To avoid summer bloom, he recommends scrubbing every inch of the algae in the pool and on deck. Black algae can be slippery and cause falls. Finally, inspect the deck for sharp edges and toe-catchers that can cause injury.
  • Play it safe. Inspect all play structures and slides by hand, tugging and pulling on items to make sure they are still secure. Check that every bolt is in place and that missing pieces were replaced with a matching part. Do not use a part that is “good enough,” Yarger stresses. Many manufacturers offer additional maintenance steps for their play equipment.
  • Make a call. Check that the phone system is working properly and that important numbers are close by and updated.
  • Evaluate assets and liabilities. Evaluate all equipment. Look over ladders and guard stands for cracks and proper conditions. If there are diving boards, examine the stand and board. See to it that all rescue equipment is on site and available, including reaching poles, buoys, backboards and rescue tubes. Check that dividers are on between shallow and deep end.
  • Hire smart. Make sure all lifeguards are certified and conduct in-service training. Rehearse the emergency action plan and assign roles to everyone for the EAP.
  • Make a list and check it twice. When the season ends, make a to-do list of problems that can be fixed off-season. Then make a list of steps required to open the pool to avoid missed steps. “Have a checklist you follow from year to year,” Osinski says. “Follow the reverse to winterize.”