On Deck & Beyond

Achieving a cost-effective and successful pool environment needs to be predicated on a pool deck and surrounding facility that is "built right" on the first try.

There is nothing more discouraging than investing in the construction of a new pool deck area only to find it riddled with maintenance headaches, high repair costs, or seeing it contribute to camper behavior problems.

How to Avoid Design Mistakes

1. One of the most common (and costly) mistakes in pool deck designs is made before the first design document is started -- not identifying how the pool itself will be used.

If you can work with your camp staff to identify both the current camp aquatics programming and project the cutting-edge activities for the future, you can avoid many costly mistakes.

How important are these aquatic activities: swimming instruction, adventure programming, free-play, health-fitness aerobic and strength training exercises, a wide array of water sports from polo to volleyball, competitive distance swimming, injury rehabilitation, water-park and water-toy fun and opportunities to for participants to just socialize.

Once you have identified and prioritized the type of aquatic activities that would meet your campers' current and future needs, you can make much more effective decisions about what to build, how much to spend, and how to maintain a safe and effective pool environment.

For example, if you decide to build a permanent, zero-depth access ramp into the pool for people with disabilities, you will probably take away at least one competition lane that can be used in a swim meet. This may save you from the extra cost in buying a portable ramp, cut down on storage space needed when it is not in use, and labor to move it but be sure that you make the decision knowing what flexibility (and pool rental income) that you might lose.

2. Not learning from the success and the failure of other camp directors who have gone before you in constructing pools and pool decks. You will need to make critical decisions about pool deck materials, drainage, safety equipment, handicap access, spectators, traffic patterns, storage, signage, and even the number and type of electrical outlets to install. The choices that you make can impact safety, the intensity and frequency of maintenance, pool equipment purchases and replacement costs, and how many campers will choose to return to your camp for another season.

Visit at least three other pool facilities that are similar to the one you are planning. Watch the campers in action, talk to the lifeguards and aquatics instructors, ask the maintenance workers about what they appreciate about the design and what they wish had been designed differently.

Then take this information and talk to the camp owner. Ask about the lifecycle costs (initial investment, labor and supplies for maintenance, utility bills and repair and replacement costs). What do they like and what do they wish that they could change about their aquatics facility?

3. Selecting a pool deck surface material based primarily on keeping costs down. What many camp business owners find after the fact is that the material that is the cheapest, costs more in the long run.

Certainly the material selected for the pool deck needs to be easy to clean and it needs to stand up to the elements of sun, moisture, humidity and pool chemicals but the deck surface that does not provide adequate traction for campers and proper drainage to prevent puddling can literally cost a fortune to pay for camper injuries and that requires early replacement because of premature degrading.

Safety, construction costs, maintenance, durability and aesthetics should all be considered. Deck surfaces can be as simple as treated wood (short on longevity and it can cause injuries as it ages), poured in place concrete (easy to clean but provides little traction for campers to tread safely), a light broom finish on concrete (gives more traction but requires more care), exposed aggregate (requires highly-skilled installation and is more difficult to clean than light broom finished concrete), coating systems over concrete (which can degrade quickly and can be expensive to repair or replace), or a ceramic tile with a coating that enhances foot traction (the initial cost is probably the highest of all the materials available).

Then there is the consideration for the type of drainage that would be best for the project. Of course, inadequate drainage leads to water puddling on the deck surface. This puddling raises the risk of camper accidents and the standing water degrades the deck surface more rapidly.

The two main types of drains are slot drains (which are at the surface of the deck and don't require as much crowning of the deck surface but can collect debris and back up to degrade the surface) and trench drains (which do require sloping of the deck in four directions but do not collect the debris and malfunction as often). Care should also be given to the placement of the drains so that it provides enough coverage for the entire deck to be cleaned without puddles forming.

4. Skimping on storage. Many injuries can come from campers tripping over equipment left on the pool deck. Clear the deck by strategically placing an abundance of storage around the deck area. This will prevent injuries, save money on replacing equipment that can "walk away" because it is not secured, and it preserves the quality of camp programming because there is adequate deck space for instruction.

5. Forgetting about the spectators. Spectators come in all ages and interests: parents who want to watch a swim lesson, campers who arrive a little early for their lesson, and competitors at swim meets want to observe what is going on before their events.

If you neglect the spectator needs in your pool deck design, you can have overcrowding of people and dirt that they bring in on your deck and just a lack of control over how each camp program progresses.

Make sure that you think about how to accommodate spectators before they arrive for your first event. You have several options to accommodate spectators and talking it through with other camp owners might help you to discover things like most telescoping bleachers aren't made to resist corrosion from pool chemicals and moisture; glassed-in viewing areas are great to prevent dirt and separate competitors from spectators but don't allow spectators to feel like they are part of the event because they cannot cheer and hear the announcements and the starter's signal; or that separate, open air balconies usually require more costs for access and egress accommodations. Approach all of these factors with great care and research and then find the best solution that you can afford.

6. No formal plan for risk management. Having the required safety equipment, provide adequate mounting for the equipment, purchasing fixtures that are resistant to corrosion, and providing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) (for appliances that require electricity, everything from cleaning equipment, scorekeeping and timing devices, and the sound system for music and public announcements).

7. Overlooking the importance of signage: failure to warn is one of the most commonly cited causes of negligence in tort cases involving aquatic injuries.

Pool decks need to have water depths conspicuously posted, no diving warnings need to be obvious to swimmers in the shallow end of the pool, and pool rules must be posted and reviewed by people who enter the pool area.

No running allowed on the pool deck needs to be reinforced by both signs and pool supervisors early and often. USA Swimming has a great web page on proper signage that everyone who operates a pool should take time to review at www.usaswimming.org.

8. Designing a Pool Deck without consulting the ADA guidelines. President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990 (which is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability).

The ADA requires that newly constructed and altered state and local government facilities, places of public accommodation and commercial facilities be readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities.

The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) is the standard applied to buildings and facilities. Recreational facilities, including swimming pools, wading pools, and spas, are among the facilities required to comply with the ADA. The Access Board issued accessibility guidelines for newly constructed and altered recreation facilities in 2002. The recreation facility guidelines can be found at www.access-board.gov/recreation/guides/pools.htm

There are many concerned advocacy groups who are working hard to see that recreational design/construction/renovations are helping people with disabilities to take part in recreational activities.

Making sure that your pool deck is in step with the latest ADA guidelines is not only respecting the law, it is good for your business. Students with disabilities have come a long way into the mainstream and they are always on the look out for camp programming to supplement their public education. Making your facilities accessible can yield great dividends in both camper participation and in your own public relations.

"The devil can be in the details" but taking great care in planning the best pool facility possible can translate into a safe, productive camp season for everyone.

While architects and pool manufacturers can offer their expertise and the latest products to meet your aquatic programming needs, no one knows more about your camp operations than you and your staff.

Prioritizing these needs, doing your homework, and asking all the important questions during the design development can go a long way to save you money and make your aquatics programming one of the main reasons that your campers keep coming back, season after season.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 25 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

Bryan BuchkoComment