While renovations are a fact of life and carry so many benefits — the ability to revitalize a center and even draw in new demographics, increase programming or just keep offering the same services as before without hiccups — these projects aren’t easy.
“I think oftentimes renovation is a four-letter word in our office,” jokes Kevin Post, a principal of St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. “They’re very challenging — I don’t think they’re ever easy. They’re some of the hardest projects.”
And very few are routine. Even a simple pool resurfacing could result in the unveiling of hidden problems that could require significantly more work and costs.
The key for facility owners and managers? “Be flexible and adaptable with both the budget and timeline,” Post advises.
Here, he and other aquatics experts share tips for scheduling and planning a renovation at your facility.
Assessing the work
Always watch for irregularities on the facility and its pools. Maintenance crews or contractors should note such issues as cracks, strange noises, or problems with water clarity or flow.
Additionally, have the pool assessed or audited regularly to gauge its condition and detect any repairs or replacements that may need to be done in the future or even the long term. Consider bringing in an aquatic consultant or engineer for this if you see a number of issues.
If the pools are more than 10 years old, perform an audit every four to five years, advises Mick Nelson, co-owner of Total Aquatic Programming in Colorado Springs, Colo. “At that point, all the equipment is out of warranty, and it’s hard to predict how long it will last because it’s so dependant on how well it’s been taken care of,” Nelson says.
Doug Whiteaker, a principal with Water Technology Inc. of Beaver Dam, Wisc., likes to see assessments performed every five years. He advises assessing not only the pool and equipment’s physical condition, but also its ability to best serve its audience and meet the goals of the facility, which can change over the years. “It helps you keep an eye on what’s happening in the market,” he says.
If you contract with a pool-management firm, find out what kind of assessments they do.
American Pool Enterprises, headquartered in Owings Mills, Md., performs what they call a reserve study for new clients. This tells how much life various components of the pool have left, including the surface, equipment, pool structure, deck and surrounding features. With this information, facilities can begin saving and budgeting years in advance.
The inspection includes checking to make sure equipment still performs at the needed level. “We’ll look at filter plant replacement if we feel the equipment is being over-utilized, meaning it’s just on the edge of proper turnover,” says Dan Lawler, president of American Pool Enterprises.
Matter of timing
In this age of high demand, low staffing and regular price increases, it is more important than ever to plan renovations as far as possible in advance.
Scarcity of some equipment and materials also can add to the timeline. “Renovations are a lot tougher than they used to be because of the supply chain,” Nelson says. “There are pools that are still waiting for heaters from when they ordered them during COVID.”
Of course, exactly how far in advance to plan depends on several factors, most importantly the scope of the project.
“We work with our clients anywhere from six months up to three to five years,” Lawler says.
These experts offer some approximate timelines for three common types of renovation:
Resurfacing: Perhaps the most basic renovation, resurfacing can move pretty quickly, once all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. For most pools, the contractor usually can prepare the pool, apply bond coat and plaster in three days, Lawler says.
But the timeline extends well past on-site work. Permitting must be considered, so find out how long it takes in your area. Generally speaking, that will add three to six months to the process, Post says.
Finally, you need to allow proper curing time for the plaster or other surfacing material so it reaches its full strength. For this reason, it’s best to resurface pools months before they’ll be reopened. Otherwise, the durability of the material can be compromised.
When scheduling this work, consider some thing else: Pool resurfacing typifies the most frustrating aspect of renovations — you don’t truly know the scope of work until the pool has been emptied and closely inspected. “When we look at a pool, 99% of the time it’s filled with water,” Lawler says. “We can’t assess what other types of problems we’ll run into.”
For instance, they don’t know how many times the pool has been replastered and, thus, how many coats are in the pool. At a certain point, the plaster must be chipped out before another coat is applied. Also, the existing plaster could be delaminated in spots, which must be chipped out before more plaster is placed over it. And if the shell is cracked, that adds a whole new element to the renovation.
“If you put plaster on a not-sound surface, you will continue to have problems,” Lawler says.
For all these reasons, it’s best to begin this process early enough so the work can be done in fall. This should allow plenty of time for curing and unforeseen situations. Whichever season you plan to do this work, secure a contractor and get on their schedule as soon as possible. This is especially crucial in spring. “It’s important to get on the contractor’s list early, because everybody’s going to want to [do the work] in spring,” Post says.
Equipment rooms: Other renovations may seem straightforward but require more planning than an expected. Significant equipment-room work falls under that category.
While many believe they can simply replace equipment like-for-like, there are other factors to consider. Unless the pool will be replumbed, you’ll need to work within the confines of the existing plumbing system. Newer equipment of a similar size may move higher volumes of water than is safe for your system. And those modern regenerative filters likely require different flow rates than an existing sand filtration system. “You can’t just say, ‘We have an old high-rate sand filter, we’d like to upgrade to the modernized regenerative filters. Let’s just order it,’” Nelson says.
He suggests hiring an aquatic engineer to examine the system and specify the best equipment for replacement, then estimate costs.
Also allow time for equipment to be shipped.
Nelson says planning for these renovations should begin at least 18 months before the date the new equipment must be operational.
Major renovations: When you get into large projects — extending an existing pool, adding a new pool or other major features or buildings — the timing will be very specific. To develop this timeline, you’ll need to find out how long each step takes and plan backward.
In addition to the extensive construction time involved, you may have to address code issues, even with the parts you plan to keep. Today’s codes are likely different than those in place when the facility was built. Find out if the renovation will require that you meet the newest codes. In some cases, it just needs to comply with the codes to which it was originally built. But, depending on the municipality, that can change with the complexity of the project.
For major work, you may need to build to new standards.
“There’s sort of a sliding scale in terms of what you can do to a pool that triggers it to fall out of compliance,” Whiteaker says.
But expect to start planning at least two years in advance, Whiteaker says.
“If it’s just some of the physical plant updating, you can probably plan that a year in advance,” he says. “But if you’re adding substantially I would say you should plan at least two years in advance so you can have a year of planning and a year of construction.”