The Denning Period

How to prepare a rec center for less traffic

By Robert Kravitz

Many park and recreation centers in North America have what may be called their “denning period.” The term actually refers to the five months of the year when bears slow down but still walk around from time to time or take the next step toward total hibernation.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / fiphoto

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / fiphoto

Many park and rec centers slow down after the peak summer months, especially in areas of the country that have cold winters. During these months the use of facilities is reduced considerably or—just like bears—shut down entirely. When preparing for the denning period, administrators need to secure snow-removal contracts, inspect and winterize the property, and maintain plumbing, restrooms, and floors.

Snow-Removal Contracts
If the center is used during the winter months—even sparingly—administrators should make sure snow blowers and tractors are tuned up and ready to go. Ice-melting compound should be ordered and stocked, and snow-removal contracts should be reviewed, tweaked, and awarded.

The contracts need to be scrutinized carefully. Many administrators have reservations about signing snow-removal contracts because there is typically a seasonal charge for the service, even if it is never used. However, being caught in a winter storm without a contract may mean the entire park must be closed for days or weeks at a time, preventing the community from taking part in the park’s winter activities.

Here are some guidelines that administrators should consider applying before signing on the dotted line with one of these snow-removal firms:

• Ensure the contract has beginning and end dates that reflect your snow season. A term that runs from November 15 to April 15 may be too long. Your center may need service only from December 1 to March 30.

• Ensure the total seasonal costs are specified and the number of visits to be included.

• Ask whether there is a charge for extra visits or “day-after” visits, when snow returns a day or so after the snow is initially cleared.

• Determine the amount of snow that must fall to automatically trigger service. In most cases, it is 2 inches, but some administrators may require more snowfall. This can help reduce costs.

• Determine when the snow will be removed. Will it be between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. or after 8 a.m.? Once again, in some cases charges are less if service is performed later in the day.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / ybernesco

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / ybernesco

Facility Inspections
Because administrators and staff members are at the rec center every day, they may lose touch with the ins and outs of the facility. Before the winter season begins, a complete inspection should be performed as if seeing the facility for the first time. The interior and the exterior, including nearby landscaping and all walkways, should be examined. Particular attention should be paid to the plumbing and restrooms of the facility.

• Plumbing

Plumbing installed in interior spaces tends to be less vulnerable to the cold than that installed in exterior (end) locations. If the facility is closed or only sparingly used during the winter, ensure room temperatures in the exterior spaces are warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing.

Outdoor plumbing may have insulation covering the pipes. Repair any worn or damaged pipes on the exterior walls to prevent heat loss or freezing damage.

Gutters and downspouts are prone to freezing in the winter. Water can seep underneath roofing shingles when temperatures rise, causing leaks. Make sure shingles are kept clean and install heat tape to these areas.*

When inspecting the exterior of the building, check overhangs and architectural features onto which snow and ice may accumulate. With warmer temperatures or direct sunlight, snow and ice may slide off these areas, potentially causing injury to someone below. If there is risk for injury, place warning signs around these areas. **

• Restrooms

Ensure restrooms are kept warm enough to prevent plumbing from freezing during the winter months.

If tank-style toilets are installed, consider pouring plumber’s antifreeze in the tanks as well as the water in the toilet bowl. Do the same for flushed urinals. Follow the instructions carefully, including safety instructions, such as wearing goggles.

Many parks now have waterless urinals. They do not need to be winterized because they are not plumbed for water. However, some waterless urinal manufacturers suggest that extra “blue seal,” a liquid sealant used in many types of waterless urinals, be poured into the cylinder during the winter. This will prevent sewer odors from being released into the restroom whether it is used or not. Further, this type of sealant can withstand temperatures up to –70º F.

Floor drains are often overlooked, and this can be a serious problem. If restrooms are not used for long periods of time, sewer odors and pathogens can be released into the air from drains in floors and sinks. This is caused by water below the drains evaporating over time. For this reason, “ever prime” drain liquids are available that prevent this from happening. Use these liquid primers in all floor drains, including where HVAC systems are installed.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / photography33

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / photography33

Floor Protection
To prepare the interior of the rec center for winter, be sure high-performance matting has been installed. In most cases, these mats are purchased, not rented. They are durable in adverse weather conditions and can effectively absorb soil and moisture.

Furthermore, many park and rec centers stop refinishing their floors as a cost-saving measure. This may not be the most astute decision. Finish (wax) is designed to protect the floor from ice, soils, and other contaminants that may damage the floor and grout. Without it, tiles may loosen. Also, most floor finishes today provide slip protection. This can help prevent a slip-and-fall accident and is important if a large number of children or older adults use the facility during the denning period.

Robert Kravitz is a writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. He may be reached at

*Heat tape helps insulate spouts and pipes that are not buried deep underground.

**Warning signs lose their impact if they are left up at all times. Only install warning signs when needed in order to warn of potential danger, and then remove them when the danger has passed.