Tom Soter and Bill Morris in Building Operations
Swimming pools, like grizzly bears, go into a long hibernation every winter. Coming out of that hibernation can be a jarring experience for a swimming pool – unless your board takes the proper steps to get ready for the coming warm weather.
And now is the time to be taking those steps, says Trevor Sherwood, president of Pool Operation Management, a New Jersey company that maintains and manages pools and also provides a certification course for pool operators. The biggest problem, Sherwood says, is two-fold: co-op and condo boards wait too long to get their pools ready; and their maintenance staffs think, erroneously, that they know how to maintain the pool.
“A lot of them, instead of getting started early, just keep the doors locked until two weeks before Memorial Day weekend,” Sherwood says. “Then they open it up and find that water froze and broke the pipe or the filter, and they need a new repair. At that point, most of the pool companies are already busy, booked up with work. It makes it hard.”
As for the second part of the problem: “A lot of people think it's just you throw chlorine in the pool and everything's going to be great. But that's not the case.”
Many co-op and condo boards try to save money by getting in-house staff to maintain their pool. To help them, Sherwood offers a two-day course that leads to a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) certification, which is required for all public and private pools in the tri-state area. The cost for the course is $305, and the certification is valid for five years.
“We train about 2,000 people a year in 14 different states up and down the East Coast, from Maine to Florida.,” Sherwood says. “We teach them about liability, protecting themselves from lawsuits, making sure they're keeping their pools up to code. Then we go over basic water chemistry, how to keep all the chemicals balanced, how to adjust the chemicals. We go over the filters and pumps, how they operate. How to winterize a pool. How to open it back up in the spring.”
And what is the biggest misconception about swimming pool maintenance among co-op and condo boards?
“How cheap it's going to be,” Sherwood says. The cost of a professional pool company ranges widely. Minimal service – opening the pool, checking it three times a week, and closing it at the end of the season – costs about $5,000. With a full-time lifeguard added, the cost balloons to about $25,000. Also, chlorine and pH levels must be constantly monitored – every two hours in New Jersey, three times a day in New York state.
But it’s money well spent, in the opinion of Peter Lehr, director of management for Kaled Management. “I personally think swimming pools will break a manager’s heart,” Lehr says. “My best advice to boards is to find a pool company and let it be their headache. And the liability of not having a lifeguard is a risk nobody should take.”
Alvin Wasserman, director of asset management at Fairfield Properties, agrees. “There are a few boards that might try to operate without a pool service,” Wasserman says, “but that’s hard to do. Somebody has to be a CPO. The regulations and oversight by governments have been ramped up over the past few years.”
A final word of caution: if you hire a pool company, make sure your lawyer reviews the contract. “The attorney should make sure the pool company has proper insurance, so you’re protected,” Wasserman says. “That’s where some boards try to scrimp.”
Not a good idea.
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