When it first became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would result in widespread shutdowns throughout the country, the team at Counsilman-Hunsaker noticed a trend that concerned them: Some government officials seemed to believe that local pools should not only be closed to the public, but that the equipment should be shut down as well.

So, as one of its first moves in response to the closures, the aquatics powerhouse reached out to public officials and facility managers to make it clear that pools could not be turned off like a lamp — that they still needed chemistry maintenance and water recirculation.

“They were originally under the assumption that it would be better to just turn everything off and save the energy,” says Kevin Post, principal and studio director with the St. Louis-based company. “But leaving a stagnant pool or leaving equipment with water not running properly, and not properly winterizing would cause more problems.”

This comprised just the first act in the company’s leadership through the COVID-19 crisis. Especially during the early days, the team dedicated its efforts toward compiling and presenting as much information as possible, and to keep the focus on the industry’s strengths.

Hopeful chronicling

Whether during industry presentations or while developing company plans, Counsilman-Hunsaker made it a strategy to acknowledge challenges but focus on the positive.

Early on, for instance, quite a bit of industry talk addressed which aquatics facilities across the country had to close, with some entities publishing lists. While this is understandable, the team at Counsilman-Hunsaker worried it would give outside observers the wrong idea.

“I had a lot of concerns that if government officials started seeing the promotion of pool closures, they would follow suit, and it would start a trickle effect,” Post says.

Clockwise from top left: Kevin Post, George Deines, Miklos Valdez, and Jonathan Nies
Counsilman-Hunsaker Clockwise from top left: Kevin Post, George Deines, Miklos Valdez, and Jonathan Nies

So the company sought to switch up the public perspective and provide some inter-industry encouragement. The team compiled and maintained a list of aquatics facilities that were open, encouraging aquatics managers to send notification when they opened. Gathering as much data as possible, the team frequently updated the list as restrictions loosened and pools began to open.

“We wanted to solve the problem, not sit back and complain and let things happen to us,” Post says. “We said, ‘We need to have these pools ready to reopen, so let’s start talking about pools that are reopening and how they’re doing it safely.’”

In addition to providing hope in a scary time, the map delivered more tangible benefits. In one of the most impressive examples, it helped one center find a new income source.

“A private club had lost a lot of membership due to the restrictions and shutdowns,” Post says. “Because of our openings map, three swim teams that had been kicked out of their pools found [the private club]. Rental from that swim team was able to offset the loss in memberships.”

Like so many aquatics teams, Counsilman-Hunsaker was trying to corral as much information as possible on how to operate facilities safely. In short order, it was offering presentations to groups around the country to discuss pool openings and provide data, information, processes and procedures to help. In the first couple months, presentations were given by Post, as well as George Deines and Miklos Valdez, multiple times a week, with research backup from Jonathan Nies.

Additionally, Deines provided articles to various industry publications, offering arguments and strategies for aquatics departments to use when advocating for pool openings and, in the case of municipal pools, the funding to make that possible. They posted a policy document on their website for anybody to access.

“We were trying to reach hundreds of people at a time,” Post says.

Position of strength

Here, again, the team focused on the positive — namely, the benefits of aquatics and its strengths in offering safe recreation.

George Deines making a presentation
Counsilman-Hunsaker George Deines making a presentation

For instance, aquatics professionals are well-acquainted with the process of preventing transmission of bacteria and viruses, and with other forms or risk management. Just give the staff a clear protocol, and they can jump right in. Additionally, facility designers have spent decades learning the intricacies of optimizing air circulation to keep indoor pool users healthy and prevent building degradation.

“They found that relative humidity between 40-60% is ideal to minimize disease transmission and provide user comfort, and the typical pool is set at about 55% humidity,” Post says.

Additionally, aquatics designers minimize air velocity around the deck and swimmers in an indoor facility. This practice is done for user comfort, but it takes on special relevance now, when spreading a virus is a concern.

This emphasis on air quality puts modern aquatics facilities in good stead when considering their safety during the pandemic, Post says.

With the remaining uncertainty about how this pandemic will be resolved, Post acknowledges that aquatics isn’t in the clear yet. But, as the last year has proven, it’s in a great position to come out of the crisis stronger.

“When a new problem comes, we usually get together,” Post says. “The aquatics industry is like this family group that gets together, shares information, policies and best practices, and shares solutions. We know that one of the best things to do is work together as a community.”

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