Aquatic Facility Maintenance

By Rachael Arroyo
Photos: Farmers Branch Aquatics Center

My motto for aquatics has always been, “Proactive—not reactive.” Although the phrase applies to every facet of the industry, it unequivocally applies to maintenance. Being proactive means being well ahead of preventative maintenance before it turns into a deteriorative state. It means anticipating decline and determining external factors that accelerate corrosion. In short, it means being well ahead of the curve. Prevention is the key in maintaining a facility that accompanies the adage, “Do what you can today to prevent issues tomorrow.” The catch is that acting today required preparation yesterday, and preparation yesterday required planning six months ago. Advanced planning is a simple step most operators miss when an issue arises. What maintenance plan was in place to prepare for this issue, or what steps were taken to decrease deterioration in the first place? When water is involved, deterioration immediately sets in, which means that, in an aquatic environment, anything in the vicinity has a shorter shelf life.

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Planning And Prioritizing
Imagine a new car smell; you can probably smell it just by reading this article, but it doesn’t last long. Facilities are similar in that way. They are shiny and clean, the water is crystal clear, and everything works as it should. But it doesn’t stay like that.

With a newer facility and the desire to keep it looking and functioning that way (think artificial new car smell after a good car wash), the aquatic center developed a proactive-maintenance plan, which includes everything from the pump room, equipment, pools, play structure, slides, and more.

The plan is designed as broad yet funnels down into the minutiae. Not everything can be planned for, but as issues or the potential need for repairs arise, we evaluate and add procedures. When a piece of equipment is purchased, a plan to preserve it is put in place. In order to begin developing that plan, two tasks must be completed:

  • An itemized list of buildings, rooms, pools, equipment, etc., is created.

  • A lifecycle timeline is determined for items/equipment, as well as a replacement schedule and intensive repairs to plan for each fiscal year based on one year out, five years out, 10 years out, 20 years out; the schedule is reevaluated annually.

Once these have been determined, the next step is defining what degree of maintenance the items require (i.e., high, medium, or low priority).

  • High priority—System stoppage, impact on patron usage (pool lights, electricity shut off, HVAC)

  • Medium priority—Still operable, impact on operations (chemical control equipment, UV, boiler)

  • Low priority—Operable, impact on operations, but no impact on patron usage (vacuum, tools, minor equipment).

Prioritizing facilitates efficient decision making. This helps in two ways:

  • It acknowledges the potential impact and provides an opportunity to educate others on the impact.

  • It allows time to determine maintenance schedules, as there are time constraints due to operating hours, available parts, other repairs, and more.

Some entities might argue that budget constraints prohibit them from being proactive. However, operators are able to more accurately anticipate deterioration and continuously evaluate equipment to make minor repairs as needed, and anticipate major maintenance projects to include in budget preparation. This avoids unexpected spikes in maintenance budgets, the need to request additional funds, and potential major renovations.

Once priorities have been set, one step remains before procedures can be put into place: who will do the repairs? You, staff members, maintenance staff, or a contract company? This may seem simple, but when something breaks in the middle of a busy summer day, it is better to have decided in advance whom to call. Making this decision early eliminates wasted time in trying to figure out who is responsible. This also creates a plan for that person or company. Knowing who is responsible ahead of time can even be included in the proactive-maintenance plan and lifecycle timeline.

Proactive Procedures
Our facility uses an online checklist system that is available to all staff members. Checklists vary based on a staff member’s position, so a head lifeguard will have a different checklist than that of a person at the front desk. This process can also be replicated with paper checklists.

Every day, each person/position is responsible for a task list that includes safety, cleaning, maintenance, facility, and perimeter checks. The checklist is integrated into the maintenance plan based on priority and timeline (i.e., daily, weekly, bimonthly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, and annually).

In our case, one of the successes in implementing and following a proactive plan is the major reduction and prevention of calcium deposits on the natatorium pool tile. Our specific tile, while non-slip, is susceptible to mineral buildup. The plan includes daily scrubbing, weekly descaling, and monthly stain and scale solution, as well as an annual major tile cleaning. If the daily and weekly steps are not followed, the scale builds up exponentially, and a contractor must be brought in to correct the problem.

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Annual Slide And Structure Program
Another example of a crucial proactive plan is the annual slide and structure-maintenance program. This is not an industry standard, but it should be. The current industry standard includes maintaining structures and slides with minor maintenance and upkeep, and on an as-needed basis, meaning maintenance is only performed when something breaks or is in need of major repair/restoration.

The current industry operational process includes operators completing periodic checks, determining what repairs/services need to be done, and having to contract with multiple companies to complete an entire project. There may be a contractor responsible for waxing, buffing, and restoring the gel coat, while another contractor is responsible for structure integrity and major repairs. There is also typically a third contractor who takes care of minor issues or repairs that arise. However, the operator is still responsible/liable for the schedule of maintenance and the integrity of the structure.

By developing an all-inclusive contract for structure/panel integrity, major maintenance, minor maintenance, and periodic evaluations, the liability of the operator is removed and put in the hands of the experts.

In procuring contractors to do slide and structure work, I have found it impossible to find just one company to complete my full request. Therefore, I have a plan that includes multiple companies, as well as daily, ongoing staff tasks, that together complete the entire slide-maintenance program.

It isn’t ideal, but it’s what needs to be done to combat imminent issues and to avoid major repairs and restorations. By implementing the daily (or near daily during the off-season) practice of walking the slides and activity structures, rinsing the stairs and slides with fresh water, and inspecting for leaks, loose bolts, and the function of the play features, etc., we have managed to purposefully keep the facility in exemplary condition for the last four years. My hope is to continue to speak openly and educate the industry to make this a standard practice.

The aquatic center had to evaluate the potential cost of a major future restoration vs. ongoing proactive maintenance of the structures, and both the short- and long-term costs of the ongoing maintenance outweighed the restoration cost. By implementing a proactive-maintenance plan, we were able to ward off those upcoming major issues. Think of it as routine upkeep on a vehicle. It may not completely restore that new car smell, but by keeping the car routinely fine-tuned and detailed with that artificial smell, you’re able to emulate that day you drove the car off the lot.

Rachael Arroyo is the Aquatics Manager for the Farmers Branch Aquatics Center in Farmers Branch, Texas. Reach her at Rachael.arroyo@farmersbranchtx.gov.