Photos: Paul Dingman

Leisure pools can pose special challenges because of the very things that make them special.

Opening up a traditional pool can be relatively straightforward because of its simplicity, but when you add in the extra features on a leisure pool, the process becomes more complicated.

“An outdoor seasonal leisure pool is one of the hardest facilities to open for the season,” says Kevin Post, CEO of St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. “Every process has to be done five or 10 times because of all the features.”

But it’s not just a matter of cleaning, repairing and replacing the physical facilities. Management also needs to take the time to prepare staff for the start of the season.

The process should begin several weeks in advance. This especially holds true for outdoor facilities in regions where the weather leading up to the season can interfere with repairs, renovations and even training.

Physical check

When it comes to addressing the physical pool and facilities, begin with an inspection.

Check to determine whether repairs or replacements will be necessary. After cleaning the pool, look it over for effects of the winter and closure of the pool. This can include cracks and other freeze/thaw damage, as well as staining or even vandalism.

Inspect the equipment room. Make sure the pumps, filters, heaters and other components of the circulation system work in case a repair or replacement is needed.

In the pool and surrounded areas, closely inspect bolted-in components to make sure they’re securely in place and flush where they’re supposed to be. Check lifeguard stands, diving boards, slides, ladders, railings and lights. Are all the bolts tightened on the ladders? Are the light niches secured, flush and sealed like they’re supposed to be, or are they slightly off center. Protrusions and sharp edges can cut somebody.

Make sure the lights are working.

Do this at least a couple months in advance, leaving enough time to arrange for a contractor or technician to make needed repairs or replacements, Post says.

Log repairs and replacements as much as possible, in case an incident occurs and you need to prove due diligence, says.

To make sure you've covered everything, ask returning staff for any problems they might remember from the previous season. “The staff is your front line,” says Mick Nelson, co-owner of Total Aquatic Programming in Colorado Springs, Colo.

This not only yields the most thorough information, but it also deepens their engagement and contribution to the facility’s success. “You need a culture of inclusion, of staff being part of it,” says Sue Nelson, co-owner of Total Aquatic Programming.

In addition to the pool equipment and features, check your supplies. Look at the chemicals in storage. Mick Nelson suggests beginning the season with at least a month’s supply. “We still have supply chain issues,” he says. “We need to combat that by being prepared.”

Have lifeguards double-check the safety equipment, such as rescue tubes and back boards to make sure they’re still in good shape. They also should replenish first aid kits.

Somebody on the team also should check programming supplies, such as kickboards and materials for swim lessons and training. Make sure you have enough, that it’s all clean and in working order.

Go through this process at least twice a year. When the season ends, perform a final inspection and consult with staff a last time for problem areas to address in the off-season.

Ask lifeguarding staff whether certain parts of the pool were more prone to slips, trips and falls. Maybe those spots need resurfacing. Review accident data to detect similar patterns.

Keep a list of items that must be addressed, along with a schedule to perform repairs and replacements. Larger projects such as replastering should be handled as soon as possible after closing, so you don’t have to compete for a spot on the contractor’s schedule.

“Seasonal pools are really a year-round operation,” Post says.

Preparing the staff

Time also must be devoted to getting staff ready for the season.

Don’t think only in terms of in-service for your lifeguards or training front staff on using the entry system or software. Spend time going over customer service so the team knows how to keep visitors happy and manage difficult interactions.

“We do a good job of testing lifeguard skills, but not always orientating them on all the other aspects of the work day,” Post says.

For instance, Sue Nelson says, you can train them on the Top 10 things you could do to make customers happy.

Train concession staff how to work a rush and time food preparation for minimum waste.

Also perform any cross training that you’d need to make sure all bases are covered through the year. That doesn’t have to include everybody.

“If you have a staff of 120, that may not be practical,” Mick Nelson says. “But you can identify 10 staff members to cross train.” Choose among returning employees who’ve shown an interest in promotion within the organization.

For those who will make the first contact with customers — your front office or reception-area staff, as well as those who answer phones — make sure they have the knowledge the answer basic questions. They should be able to provide information about programming, policies, schedules and other issues. Even create a cheat sheet on which they can quickly look up descriptions of the various programs.

“Try to connect those pillars of programing so they can be marketing for you,” Sue Nelson says.