Aquatic Maintenance Is "Serious" Fun

By Randy Gaddo

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Because aquatic facilities are usually some of the most popular of parks and recreation offerings, maintenance professionals should focus on keeping these areas safe and clean.

PRB0413_Gaddo_Aquatics1.jpg

Many people only think of swimming pools when aquatic facilities are mentioned, but there are several categories that can be classified under the “aquatic” umbrella; maintenance staff should note that each category requires different care, cleaning, and operations.

Define The Type Of Facility
To begin, there are different types of swimming pools. Probably the most common are the seasonal, outdoor pools opened during the warmer months (the exact time frame varies by climate). Then there are outdoor heated pools that remain open longer, or in some cases, year-round.

Indoor pools can further be defined as competition or recreational, or both. These facilities are designated by the type of structure that surrounds the pool (or pools if more than one are under the same cover), and whether the structure is permanent or temporary.

Temporary structures are further divided by type, such as air-supported or framed-supported fabric or hard-shell of varying types.

The type of water treatment also introduces variables to the maintenance equation, whether by liquid chlorine, chlorine tablets, or salt ionization (and that depends on a heavy or light bather load).

Each of these pool types and the use requires specialized maintenance. For example, in an enclosed structure, air exchange is critically important to ensure safe breathing for staff members and patrons, so more attention should be given to the specialized air-handling equipment. Also, enclosed structures may have more unusual corrosion on certain materials.

Splash Pads And Spray Parks
Many cities have found that replacing swimming pools with above-ground spray parks is more economically feasible in providing summer or year-round aquatic entertainment.

Spray parks, along with variants such as splash pads or spray pools, have little or no standing water, and generally no deep water. Water is drained away to be treated, repurified, and recirculated, or used for landscape irrigation. This feature negates the need for lifeguards and reduces liability for accidents; however, maintenance and water quality are still critically important.

Regular maintenance site-visits to spray parks should include a visual inspection, litter collection, and pad cleaning, according to suggestions on the website of Snider & Associates, a recreation and sports-product company serving Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

Treated water-system parks require regular water-quality checks, as prescribed by the local health board. In addition, park officials should periodically monitor water pressure to ensure it is at a safe discharge rate.

Lakes, Ponds, And Streams
Ponds, lakes, streams, and other outdoor, natural (or manmade) bodies of water also can be included in the inventory of aquatic facilities, and generally, in whole or in part, come under parks-department care.

While the casual observer might think these “natural” amenities take care of themselves, parks and rec maintenance pros know better.

“Ponds and lakes are especially vulnerable to pollution, even more so than streams,” say the experts at Spring Creek Aquatic Concepts, a lake- and stream-planning, design, construction, and management firm.

“Ponds and lakes are great big sponges for excess nutrients and pollution. They can also have a difficult time dealing with heavy loads of nutrients generated from areas of intense human use, such as cities,” notes the Oregon-based firm’s website.

Streams have their own set of maintenance issues compounded by generally flowing into, through, and out of a parks and rec jurisdiction, so what somebody does upstream impacts maintenance, and what is done (or not done) affects not only patrons upstream but others downstream as well.

Streams often serve as an erosion-control mechanism, as well as a recreational amenity. Sometimes the maintenance required for one function isn’t conducive with another. For example, clearing trees and bushes from the banks may be great for fishing, but not for erosion control.

Since the introduction of flood-management programs in the 1950s, routine maintenance for streams has continued to be assessed and prioritized seasonally to address sediment removal, bank stabilization, vegetation management, and other issues, according to the Sonoma County, Calif., Water Agency on its website’s educational page.

The experts in Sonoma also point out that streams and other natural bodies of water have to comply with federal and state laws and regulations, further complicating the job of a parks and rec maintenance manager.

While water departments, state or federal agencies, or non-profit conservancies are usually responsible for the care and cleaning of natural water resources, parks and rec departments often get involved in some way.

Parks that border ponds, lakes, or streams can be sites for special events or passive recreation, such as picnicking or fishing, that generally benefit from parks and rec involvement.

So regardless of the type of aquatic resource, or in some cases multiple types, that parks and rec maintenance departments care for, spring is the time to evaluate their condition and prepare for summer.

Many times, specialized aquatic-facility maintenance calls for advice or intervention from professionals in the field, so if you have any ideas, tips, or aquatic maintenance stories you’d like to share, write the PRB editor or me, and we’ll make sure everyone sees the suggestions in the magazine or online.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration and now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.