Category Archives: Operations

Is Swimmer Safety Your Priority?

While the sport of swimming has seen tremendous growth within the last 30 years due to better training methods, coaching techniques, and above all else better aquatic venues, the question is whether or not swim team safety really is keeping up with society’s expectations.

The last several years there have been plenty of fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents at swim practices that illustrate the need for the swimming community to pick up the pace when it comes to safety in and around the water.  We not only have an obligation to promote safety around the pools, but also to keep our swimmers safe through better training of aquatic and coaching staffs, having professional lifeguards or other certified professionals, and by taking steps to promote water safety for the community.

Is your facility staff ready for any and all aquatic emergencies?   Moreover, does your swim club or team promote and model safe swimming practices?  If water safety is important, then you must have a plan, have a good training program, and employ certified professionals.

Do you have an Emergency Response Plan? Being prepared to handle an emergency is the key step to having a safe facility.  An Emergency Response Plan is both on paper and practiced by all staff that would be involved in an emergency at a specific facility.  This includes constant familiarity and practice with all team members.

Is your staff appropriately trained for aquatic emergencies? An industry standard for lifeguards is at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training. While  lifeguards are certified and knowledgeable in aquatic emergencies, they still require continual practice to keep their skills sharp and prepared for anything.  So it would stand to reason that other staff members, serving in a safety capacity of their swimmers, would need that kind of training and practice to insure a truly safe environment.

The industry wants to shy away from the issue of should a lifeguard be on surveillance duty during a swim team workout.  But we must ask ourselves, is the safety of your swimmers compromised when it comes to swim teams and other aquatic sports not using lifeguards?  To answer that, we must discuss the role of a lifeguard vs others that may be responsible on the pool decks.

The term lifeguard reminds us of those mid-to-late teenagers who sit around looking at the water, and the term swimmer reminds us that these athletes are experienced swimmers.  So no one is surprised when we have not seen trending growth in swim clubs and teams having lifeguards at all times, as well as more safety training for coaching staffs.  And to be fair, professional teams may have lifeguards or the facility from which they rent already has lifeguards.

No professional can argue that training is not necessary and important for aquatic and coaching staffs.  But what does that really mean?  Do they know the latest science in hydrodynamics or the trending stroke development in the industry?  Part of having a safe environment for swimmers and water sports is not only knowing all the potential dangers, but also being able to recognize and respond to them quickly.  Knowing the swimmers’ abilities and not putting them at risk is part of the problem.  The number of swimmers per lane, their specific needs and abilities, or the pressure to push their limits can result in unsafe situations.  How is the staff trained to handle emergencies?

So what makes them professional?  As a supervisor of lifeguards for most of my career, I will tell you that certification alone does not cut it.  Neither does being on stand or looking good.  It takes constant training from management.  Not only does the management have to be well trained in emergency procedures, but they must require the safety team train hard, they must ensure constant evaluation of the team, and they must promote an atmosphere of positive development with these certified professionals.

To achieve these goals, lifeguards must be training constantly, with an industry standard of at least 60 minutes per week of dedicated training.  They should also be evaluated routinely to ensure that the training is adequate for the environment.  Using third-party organizations to come and evaluate the staff can identify areas needing improvement and also demonstrate the staff’s training success.  But, without these key training concepts, the safety team will not be prepared for emergencies.  Unfortunately, as our industry has shown, we have been too reactionary, waiting until after an incident to implement what we know as safety.

Promoting and modeling safe swimming practices must also be strictly enforced.  Back when I was on swim team and the master of my lane, we thought we were tough.  We could dive in the shallow end without incident, we could swim underwater farther than most others, and many other limits were pushed way too hard.  But as we now know with science and safety as our guide, we have the responsibility to make sure that everyone is safe.

Teams must incorporate safe swimming practices for all.  We can do this through public awareness events and swim lessons for sure.  But all certified professionals must also model this behavior everyday.  Being safe is respectable and demonstrates to the community, to parents, and to the swimmers that our programs are not only professional, but also fun with safety in mind.

It is up to all of us to mandate that these safety requirements be upheld.

All Stories

Supersizing Your Existing Swimming Pool

See if this story sounds familiar: You’re operating a community swimming pool that, in its heyday, was the centerpiece of summertime activity. It was the place to be on a hot summer day, when nearly every kid and parent in town would be diving and splashing and socializing by the pool. Now, 30 years later, attendance has nearly dried up, and so will the pool if the leaks and cracks in the pool and pipes can’t be patched together for another season.Even if the pool can be salvaged, is it really providing the recreation the community wants? The dwindling attendance figures suggest the answer.

Scenarios similar to this are being played out all across the country. A boom of community swimming pools accompanied America’s rush to the suburbs in the 1950s and ¥60s, and now those pools are facing their golden years. Most of these facilities are showing their age, while a few have resisted the ravages of time. Regardless, nearly all share the same attendance and revenue drainage. What’s the best way to turn this tide? The answers vary from case to case. Many communities have successfully modified existing structures and won back significant enthusiasm and attendance. Others have started again from scratch. Deciding which direction is right can be a challenge, but with research, analysis and some effort, you can determine whether renovation or replacement is right for your facility.

Hold On To What You’ve Got

Just because your aquatic facility isn’t a teenager anymore doesn’t mean it can’t have a little pride in how it looks. Just as you exercise and eat wisely to maintain your health (or at least have good intentions), an ongoing fitness program for your swimming pool, deck, bathhouse and mechanical areas will prolong the useful life of the facility. Even small acts of tender loving careBoth of these outcomes will help maximize revenue, and when it comes time to represent your case for changes, you’ll be able to show you’ve done everything possible with the existing facility.

Also,it will be immensely useful in the future to have substantive documentation of the current and recent operating history of the facility, so start building a file. Include safety reports, maintenance issues, attendance and revenue. This history will be helpful, again, when it is time to seek the support of civic leaders.

Know Your Customers

Before deciding which direction is right for the future of your community, you should know what the community thinks. Find out what your patrons like and what they don’t like. While this can be accomplished through mail or phone surveys, a more honest response can often be obtained at the pool by surveying customers in person. People are less likely to simply complain, and instead, will honestly and more constructively reflect on the experience at hand. Appropriate topics for evaluation include staffing, quality of service, cleanliness, water quality, overall appearance, what they like best.

Perhaps even more importantly, than knowing who your customers are and what they like, however, is knowing who your customers aren’t and why they aren’t coming to your pool. Often this is a much larger group of potential customers than your remaining active customers. You need to know why people who once came to your pool are no longer attending. Have the demographics changed?

It isn’t as easy to survey people who aren’t sitting by the poolside, but it is worth the effort to seek them out. Look through old annual pass records, visit competitive facilities, go to a local mall or other popular gathering place and ask people for their opinions and suggestions.

Another beneficial point of view can come from your peers in neighboring communities. Invite P&R managers to visit your facility and share their candid, fresh viewpoints with you. Often, when you see your pool day in and day out, you become blind to subtle changes that have gradually occurred over the years. You may be accustomed to something because it has always been that way, but a fresh set of eyes might help you see ways to improve the facility, often with little cost.

Accessing the Nature of Obsolescence

The closets, storage rooms and basements of America are filled with computers that still work as well as they did they day they were manufactured. Absolutely nothing is electronically or mechanically wrong with them; yet they are functionally obsolete. They still work with the software they were born with, but no one wants to use that software anymore; and their hard drives, RAM, and lack of peripheral equipment can’t keep up with the latest software.

Your pool may be similarly obsolete; and before you decide to renovate or replace, you should understand and be able to recognize the two kinds of obsolescence.

Physical Obsolescence

Physical obsolescence usually means your facility is simply worn out. The shell may be cracked and leaking, deck surfaces are splaying, concrete slabs heaving, recirculation and supply pipes are rusting and leaking, filter systems are malfunctioning, the bathhouse roof is leaking, the parking lot is crumbling, light fixtures are broken. These are a few of the many conditions that describe a facility that has lived beyond its useful life. All these things can be repaired, of course; but at what cost and to what end?

Often, physical obsolescence can occur for reasons other than deterioration, and usually, as a result of changing safety and health codes. Perfectly operational filtration systems can become obsolete as a result of a change in turnover rate requirements. A 10-hour turnover rate was uncommon 30-40 years agoSubsequently standards dropped to eight hours, and in many states today, a six-hour turnover rate is preferred.

Pool shells that are tight as a drum have become obsolete because of changing safety requirements for water depth below starting blocks and diving boards. Acceptable water depths under starting blocks used to be 3-1/2 to 4 feet when many of the nations pools were built in the ¥50s. Today, in the states of Texas and Michigan, 6-foot depths or greater are required These standardsmay be adopted by other states and could become the standard for future designs. Diving wells, hopper design and board configuration are also experiencing new safety codes to further minimize risk of cervical injury and impact with the pool bottom. Even bathhouses and entryways have become physically obsolete as a result of new health and safety code and ADA standards for freedom of access.

Safe lighting levels, GFI protection and other electrical requirements have also changed with updated codes through the years. Again, all these things can be fixed repaired or replaced; but at what cost and to what end?

Functional Obsolescence

It is possible?

Attendance erosion and revenue decline, resulting in increased subsidy, are all indicators of functional obsolescence. Recreation is a perishable commodity and needs to continually be refreshed to maintain popularity. If patrons no longer find it fun to use your facility and if it is no longer attractive to the market compared with other recreational opportunities, people will stop coming.

Functional obsolescence might begin with the static, rectangular body of water, but it can also implicate the narrow deck, the entrance through the bathrooms and showers, the isolated kiddy pool and the chain-link fence with the picnic area on the other side. Today, the expectations for aquatic recreation in most communities include zero-beach entry to shallow free-form bodies of water featuring waterslides, interactive play features, current rivers and bubble benches. Wide, inviting decks provide ample opportunity for socializing in sun or shade, with grassy areas, trees, shrubs and flowers giving the facility a park-like environment and pushing back to fences to the point of near invisibility.

Customers’ expectations can also lead to functional obsolescence of your entrance and bathhouse. People don’t expect to be led through the bathrooms on the way to the pool area anymore. Patrons also look for diaper changing areas, family changing rooms and more fixtures than what were provided in facilities built 30 years ago. In some cases, changing health codes make issues of physical obsolescence. But whether they are demanded by code or expected by customers, obsolescence is the result.

Mechanical systems, too, can be functionally obsolete from the operator’s point of view. Older manual systems may get the job done, but automated systems available today make it much easier to accurately and efficiently monitor water quality and perform other maintenance procedures. Continuous monitors sample water every few seconds, automatically and immediately making system adjustments to minimize problems and maximize safety. If something gets out of whack, the systems can contact the operator by pager or phone. They can even backwash themselves. The lack of these features might not make for physical obsolescence; but in an environment where saving labor costs and maximizing efficient use of energy and materials is vtital, it can add to conditions making a facility functionally obsolete.

Food services can also have an element of functional obsolescence. Today, more sophisticated, efficient food delivery systems provide a higher quality of food, with faster preparation and delivery, using minimal labor and expense. People expect these improvements as part of their recreation experience; anything less adds to a facility’s functional obsolescence.

Renovate or Replace

Finding out what your community wants and accurately accessing the degree to which your facility provides it are the first steps toward reviving your community aquatics program. Weighing the different options available to you is the next step. Of course, maintaining the status quo is one option but is doubtful to provide any turn of fortunes.

So, for many people, renovation and replacement are the real choices. The seductive excitement of building a brand new state-of-the-art aquatic center usually gets first review, but frequently budgetary reality quickly sends designers back to the drawing boards. In these cases, the opportunities for vast improvements through renovation of an existing facility shouldn’t be underestimated. Supersizing an existing facility can create dramatic improvements in recreational value and can increase attendance and revenues significantly.

A Case Study

In 1972, my father, Joe Hunsaker, designed a pool facility for the community of Shrewsbury in suburban St. Louis County, Missouri. The pool shared much in common with other community pools of its day area of the pool, creating an ideal teaching platform as well as a place for seniors to congregate.

By the 1990s, however, the pool had become functionally obsolete, and in 1998, options were considered for its repair, renovation and replacement. Ultimately, the decision was made to supersize thepool, working as much as possible with the existing pool shell to maximize cost efficiency. We designed a pool inside the existing pool, converting it into a leisure pool with tot area, zero-beach entry, spray features, shade structures in the pool, interactive play systems and a single flume waterslide with a tower designed to accept a second flume in the future. We also recreated the teaching area that was so popular in the existing pool. Other features included a water vortex and a current river with senior seating area.

The community had a long history of competitive swimming, so a new 6-lane, 25-yard pool was added with recessed stairs and a 1-meter diving board. Original plans also indicated significant improvements to the bathhouse and food service areas; but subsequent budgetary restraints led to the decision to put the money into recreation features rather than support structures.

The supersized renovation created many of the amenities popularized by water parks and aquatic centers, while working within the budget restrictions of the community. And it was successful in turning Shrewsbury’s aquatic programming around. In its first season, the pool enjoyed a significant increase in attendance and revenue, despite an unusually cool summer.

When considering the supersizing renovation option, it is important to carefully weigh the value of proposed improvements and prioritize them according to their likely affect on attendance and revenue. The parking lot, for example, may be showing some age, but people will not come to the facility because of its newly paved parking area. Similarly, people will be compelled to come to a facility because of its new bathhouse. Granted, those features may play a role in a person’s decision not to come to the facility. But it will be the features with recreation value?

Also, when judging the worth of one option over another, consider not only the initial project costs, but how the long-term operating costs and revenues will be influenced. One option may cost substantially more than another, but increased attendance and higher fees justified by greater recreation value may improve the long-term financial picture of the option that, in the short-term, is more costly. A professional design consulting firm can help evaluate all these variables.

How To Get Started

If your pool is showing the signs of functional or physical obsolescence, the time to begin the process toward change is now. It may take 2-3 years to go through investigation, review, funding, design and construction stages of development, so the sooner you begin the process, the quicker you’ll open the doors to your new or renovated aquatic center.

As stated before, start by documenting the state of your existing facility, including attendance and revenue histories, mechanical and structural maintenance issues. A professional design consultant can help conduct a facility audit to analyze the condition of your current facility and programming. The consultant can also prepare design options and individualized business plans for each option, describing the expected project costs, projected attendance and revenues, and ongoing maintenance, labor and other costs associated with the design proposals.

This report should also include an analysis of the existing competitive environment, existing and potential user groups and their expressed facility wants and needs, and a demographic study of the community reflecting population trends, income and other statistical evaluation of the community’s potential to support the proposed facility.

This information will be invaluable, not only in helping you make an educated decision on what proposals to make to the community and civic leaders, but it will also help you educatethem and provide background to help them come to a position of support for the proposals.

Ultimately, whether you repair, renovate or replace, it is important that you do so based on a solid understanding of your facility’s capabilities, the wishes of patrons both present and potential and a clear view of the many possibilities that can be explored to create the aquatic programming your community deserves.

Hiring in Aquatics: Qualities to look for in aquatic managers. 

Hiring management staff is difficult.  You have to find the right person, with the right experience, training and knowledge that will be a good fit for your organization’s culture.  A good hire can mean lower costs, higher revenues, better employee morale and a safer environment for patrons.  So how do you choose the best candidate for your organization?

You need someone with the right background knowledge.  With the right background knowledge, the aquatic manager can be a resource to staff and the public.  You’ll want to look for a number of the following certifications:

  • Pool/Aquatic Operator Certifications – these can be obtained through multiple authorities and provide the basic knowledge for pool operations.
  • Lifeguard and/ Lifeguard Instructor Certification – background knowledge in lifeguarding and training lifeguards
  • Swim Instructor/ Instructor Trainer Certifications – background knowledge teaching swim lessons and training others to teach swim lessons
  • Lifeguard Management

If they’ve made it to the interview, you probably have a good feel for their knowledge, and they meet the minimum requisites for the position. So what else do you look for?  I look for 5 main qualities when I am hiring management positions.

  1. Customer Oriented
  2. Desire to learn/adapt
  3. Grit
  4. Honesty
  5. Leadership

Customer Oriented – I look for people with strong customer service backgrounds and drive.  Ultimately whether people come back to your facility or your programs has everything to do with how well the staff treats the customer.  Look for someone that will go the extra mile for your customer and is able to articulate the importance of exceptional customer service to other staff.

Desire to learn/adapt – Like most industries, aquatics is constantly changing.  New training protocols are released almost annually, along with new research and equipment.  Programs fall in an out of favor with the public.  To provide the best service, your operator must have a desire to learn about the industry and apply that information to the aquatics operations.

Grit – grit is defined by Miriam Webster as “firmness of mind and spirit”.  I see grit as the ability to try, fail, learn from that failure and try again.  Leaders need to be able to take criticism from their superiors, the public and their subordinates.  They need to be able to take that criticism and look at it constructively and act on it.

Honesty – Look for someone that has the strength of character to be honest when it’s hard to be.  Everyone makes mistakes, but good leaders can be honest about them and move on, and their staff will move on with them.  Lifeguards often have lots of options of who to work for.  They will stay for a manager they respect and is honest with them.

Leadership – Look for someone that sees what they can do for their staff, not what the staff can do for them.   According to the United States department of Labor, the Recreation industry has the highest turnover rate of all industries.  Good managers can combat that by showing great leadership.  Find someone who will frequently give credit when its due and hold people accountable.

I have seen the quote “People leave managers, not companies” a lot lately, and I think most people would say that its true.  Look for an aquatic manager that is not only going to be able to bring the necessary knowledge to the position, but also the qualities that you want to see in your staff and in your organization.

Water Basketball Goals

Water basketball can occasionally become an afterthought during the commercial swimming pool design process due to its relatively low startup and maintenance costs. Furthermore, water basketball goals can be accommodated in a variety of places across a typical leisure pool and are hindered by the available water depth more than the available space. Often times, they are placed somewhere in the lap lane area of a pool because the larger amenities such as play structures, current channels, and water slides demand specific water depth and clearance requirements that don’t align with the ideal conditions for water basketball. Counsilman-Hunsaker has recognized a need to consider water basketball during the schematic design phase of a project with the type of water basketball goal specified becoming a function of the pool overflow system (gutter vs. skimmer), the ability to move the goal, and the desire to have an adjustable height goal. Each type of water basketball goal has its advantages and disadvantages that will be further discussed.


During initial phases of the design of a swimming pool, a “water basketball nook” should be considered accompanied by an on-looking underwater bench. By designating a confined area of the pool to water basketball, design teams can help mitigate un-desired interactions between calmer portions of the swimming pool and the unavoidable, yet popular, rowdy water basketball game. That being said, the type of water basketball goal to be specified for the pool contractor is determined by the pool overflow system. Water basketball goals have ideal setback distances from edge of the pool to the water basketball goal anchor. For example, SR Smith manufactures a water basketball goal known as the Swim N’ Dunk (S-BASK-ERS) with a setback distance of 18 inches. This smaller setback limits the type of pool that this particular goal can be installed on to skimmer pools. Obviously, the type of overflow system should not be a slave to the type of water basketball goal specified; however, it is important to keep these ideas in mind when discussing potential designs with a facility owner.

Figure 1: SR Smith Swim N’ Dunk Water Basketball Goal


Fortunately, SR Smith makes an extended reach model of the water basketball goal previously mentioned that increases the setback distance from the pool edge to 30 inches. The extended reach model could be used on a pool with a gutter perimeter overflow system, but it still lacks adjustability. The Spectrum Adjustable Basketball Hoop allows for the height of the water basketball goal to be raised and lowered. The Spectrum system uses a compression mechanism and two extension arms to do this. The setback distance for this goal is 26 inches and could be specified for a pool with a gutter system. Designers should keep this mechanism in mind when accounting for the surrounding deck space as the lever used to adjust the goal can have a large swing radius. It is important to note that any water basketball goal with an adjustable height should have a safety stopper to prevent the backboard from falling from its highest point. Without this safety implementation, backboards have been known to come crashing down on the coping stone below with some force.

Figure 2: Spectrum Adjustable Basketball Hoop


Both of the water basketball goals mentioned thus far have a fixed position. More specifically, they are anchored to the pool deck and, while they can be removed and stored, will more or less be there permanently.  Dunn-Rite, Inc. has a model known as the Splash and Slam that is both movable and has an adjustable height. The base of the water basketball goal is a hollowed polyethylene basin that weighs 500 pounds when filled with water. The water can then be drained to allow pool operators to move the goal. The backboard height can also be adjusted and leveled to compensate for the occasional uneven pool deck. This goal, while it has its advantages, would typically be specified if water basketball was considered as an afterthought during design. It is customizable, but lacks aesthetically and in sturdiness when compared to the fixed position goals.

Figure 3: Dunn Rite Splash and Slam


Water basketball goals should be a staple when it comes to leisure pool design because of their sheer popularity and low startup and upkeep cost. Ideally, the goal is placed in an area of the pool far away from where younger children will be playing and adults will be lounging. Different perimeter overflow systems demand different types of goals as fixed goals need to be provided with a deck mounted anchor. If all of these considerations are taken into account during the design phase of a project, water basketball can become the primary feature of a facility. They do bring with them many liability issues, but that is a topic for another discussion.


Expansion and Contraction in PVC Pool Piping

In the commercial swimming pool industry, the overwhelming choice for pool piping material selection is Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). The use of such materials can provide security, as it is non-corrosive, and if installed properly, some would say this pipe material can provide an almost infinite life span. But, in comparison to other pipe material selections, such as cast-iron, ductile iron, steel and concrete, PVC has a much higher coefficient of thermal expansion. This coefficient considers the amount of expansion or contraction that will occur due to the temperature range your pipe will endure and the length of pipe you are calculating. Thus, the design and installation of PVC pipe must consider how to accommodate such changes in pipe length.
For pools located in areas with seasonal temperature changes that utilize long runs of straight pipe sections, consideration should be given to accommodating expansion and contraction of the pipe. The ASTM Standard 2774 Underground Installation of Thermoplastic Pressure Piping, contains specific information on the topic of expansion and contraction in pool piping. A science-based formula for determining the expected change in pipe length due to expansion and contraction is:

By knowing the amount of expansion or contraction that will occur in your piping system, you can adjust the design as needed. These accommodations can range from changes in vertical or horizontal direction of your piping system, to the use of mechanical expansion and contraction joints. Changes in pipe direction using expansion loops, offsets and bends are ways to accommodate the expected changes in pipe length within your system. Considering that pool piping systems often have changes in direction due to the inclusion of supply inlets, main drains and feature supplies, the design and installation of the underground pool piping system naturally accommodates expansion and contraction. However, there are times when pipe runs become quite lengthy without changes in direction, and considerations for the inclusion of an expansion loop or mechanical joint will be needed.

Mechanical expansion joints come in many different types. Their primary purpose is to provide a means of flexibility in the piping network for expansion and contraction. They often work by allowing the pipe to slide into or out of itself like a piston. Installation of mechanical expansion joints for underground piping is critical. If the mechanical expansion joints, along with the materials used for backfill around the joints, are not properly installed, the effectiveness can be compromised. For example, backfill materials can make their way into the mechanical joint and hamper pipe movement. If backfill materials are a concern, it is recommended to boot the joint for protection.

In most installations, the straight pipe runs are not excessive enough or the design of the piping network will already include many bends or turns in the pipe. However, for those occasions where environmental factors result in expansion and contraction of pool piping, or straight pipe runs 100 feet or more exist, the design and installation must have allowances for the changes in pipe length that will occur. Without these provisions, the underground piping will be susceptible to potential damage, which will result in leaks to your pool piping system.