Photo by Henry Olivas/Photo Illustration by Victoria Parnes

With summer just around the corner, facilities across the country are busy brushing off the winter dust in preparation for swim season. Keeping the pool in pristine condition the whole season requires vigilance and regular maintenance.

“Today’s facility must endure long hours of use and require that the facility be adaptable to [a] variety of programming activities,” says Louis “Sam” Fruia, aquatics administrator for the Brownsville Independent School District in Brownsville, Texas.

Those activities are endless during the summer season, when days are long and kids while away their vacation at the pool. Maintaining good water chemistry, cleaning the deck and keeping the locker rooms in order are important to running a well-oiled aquatics center, and making those long summer days not so long.

In the pool

Clean it daily. Nothing speaks more to a well-operated pool than how well it looks. Every morning before the facility opens, get out the pool vacuum and suck up all the particulate matter that sinks to the bottom, away from the filter’s grasp, says Lee Yarger, coordinator of aquatics at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Then skim the surface for leaves, bugs and other items that fell in overnight. Both tasks will aid in water clarity. In busy pools, vacuum twice a day or do spot cleaning between programs. With a small brush on a leaf rake pole, brush the pool floor and walls to break up anything that has attached there, he says. This will also help prevent algae growth.

Watch the water. “Keep close monitoring of chemistry and make sure sufficient chemicals are in the pool,” Yarger says. “Seasonal pools [often] try to cut their budgets and undertreat, and it turns around and bites them in the rear.” Check chlorine and pH levels at least six to eight times a day, or every hour if the pool’s crowded, and add accordingly, even if you have an automatic feeder. It also makes for good PR, having patrons watch your staff physically scoop their pool water into test tubes and running tests to ensure their safety.

Feed the pool. James Wheeler likes to keep his chlorine levels at 3.0 parts per million, 2 ppm higher than the state minimum. “We try to run high because we always lose a little in the day, when it gets hot and bather loads get high,” says the aquatics director for the city of Oakland, Calif.

If the state allows the use of stabilizers, Yarger recommends using them. “It cuts chemical consumption dramatically. I had a facility that went from 45 pounds a day [of calcium hypochlorite] without stabilizer to 17 pounds a day with.” He used about eight ounces of cyanuric acid for a stabilizer every 50 days.

Also consider the use of different types of pre-treatments, shocks, sequestering agents or polymers to combat recurring problems such as water clarity, Fruia suggests. Consider the age of the pool, its system, and length of swim season when using these measures.

Circulate. Check the circulation system regularly. “Computers are supposed to work and it’s only as good as who programmed it,” Yarger says. So, to be safe, he checks gauge readings for the equipment every morning and throughout the day as well. Poor circulation can cause loss of water flow, worn pumps, restricted pipes, clogged filter beds and eventually expensive repairs, Fruia warns. Inspect drains, gutters, skimmers, filters, piping and fittings regularly to ascertain if they are in good working condition.

Sift and filter. “Creeping water clarity issues because of a lack of planning and preventive measures can result in untimely breakdowns and operating disruptions, as well as costly repairs that can possibly endanger your patrons to RWI outbreaks,” Fruia says. Check the filter media regularly for wear and tear, and replace as necessary. Watch the filter pressure during the swim day as bather load increases and decreases, and backwash accordingly.

Become an inspector. Check handrails, steps and surfaces to make sure they’re secure and working properly, Wheeler says. Kids like to play on rails, so pull on them to see if they can withstand your weight. Examine the diving board surface for potential slips. Sometimes diving boards require a resurfacing and need to be sent back to the manufacturer.

All hands on deck

Wash it. “If the deck is dirty, it’s likely the water is,” Yarger says. He suggests using 5 percent bleach in water solution to scrub down the decks and prevent algae from forming. With high foot traffic, food and animals making a mess on the decks, hosing them down each morning will keep them from growing mold and attracting other bugs and critters.

Push and pull. Walk around the deck checking lifeguard stands, rails, lounge chairs, umbrellas and shade structures. Wipe them regularly, and make sure umbrellas are weighted down properly or risk having them fly in the wind and hit a patron. Also make sure shade structures are fastened on properly. Check all nuts and bolts in lifeguard chairs and watch for cracks. Wash down lounge chairs weekly and arrange them neatly at the end of each day — and ensure there are no sharp edges or toe-catchers that might hurt patrons.

Rescue the equipment. Every night when putting items in storage, give the rescue tubes, kickboards and other equipment a once-over and put aside any that may be broken or worn. In mid-season, it’s a good idea to do a full inventory and make sure equipment is in proper working order.

Make the grass greener. Pick up trash from the lawn area and look to see if there are any holes in the ground, says Farhad Madani, past president of the National Recreation and Park Association’s National Aquatic Branch. During the summer, if nearby trees start to grow a little full and make leafy messes in the pool, have them trimmed, but not so much that it would eliminate shady areas.

Locker rooms

Clean it. If there’s no custodial staff, have pool employees hose down the floors and showers, clear hair from drains, and dump trash every day. Refill the soap dispensers, toilet paper and paper towels. Spot-clean regularly. “Use the barefoot rule,” Yarger advises. In other words, you should always be comfortable walking around barefoot in the locker room, or it isn’t clean enough. People come in and out of locker rooms with shoes on, tracking in outside dirt and turning the floors into a muddy path. This in turn can get into the pool, Yarger says. Mop the floors a few times a day to keep dirt to a minimum.

Supervise. There’s no combination quite like an unguarded locker room with 13-year-olds thrashing around in it, Yarger says. “They’re having a field day literally tearing your fixtures out … if they’re bored and there’s no supervision in there.” Assign someone to that area to maintain order and be on hand to help people who need assistance.

Take a walk. At least once an hour, send someone through each locker room to pick up toilet paper, turn off showers and sinks, and pick up items left behind and take them to the lost and found, Wheeler says.

This is especially important after a kids’ lesson or when a camp group comes through because something is sure to be left behind, to the chagrin of a parent.

Show a sign. Make sure all signs are clear and in good shape. In high-visibility areas, place placards warning of recreational water illnesses and the need to shower before entering the pool. Instructional signage should be put in good light and be easy to read.

Signs that are poorly maintained, or difficult to see will not generate any attention. Check that they have not been altered, drawn on or torn down.