Safely Filling Indoor Swimming Pools

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Automatic Shutoff Valve and Water-sensing alarms

Soon some JCCs will drain, clean, repair, and refill their indoor swimming pools. It’s not a complicated task, but it seems that every year someone forgets that the water is running. That’s a funny storyline for Looney Tunes, but not for a JCC – instead of chuckles there are headaches. Patrons are inconvenienced by cancelled, rescheduled, and/or relocated programs. Staff must be reassigned from regular duties to cleanup and related work. All must deal with building or section closures that might last for many weeks. And then there is the expense – possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, probably increased operating costs, and perhaps even revenue loss.

They say that a little water never hurt anyone but facilities are less resilient than people – gypsum-board ceilings and walls stain, sometimes sag and collapse; carpets and pads get stained, often ruined; wood floors warp. Computer and telephone systems, office equipment, even electrical wiring often short-circuits. Paper goods are ruined, food items are contaminated, and stored records get damaged.

A 100,000+ gallon pool seems to fill at about the same rate as grass grows, at least to the individual tasked with filling it, or perhaps more importantly, not overfilling it. However, some multi-tasking staffer will be gone too long and return to an unplanned, unwanted water world.

To keep your pool maintenance project from resulting in an expensive and embarrassing fiasco, implement each of the following.

Multiple Staff – Have at least two staff members involved in the pool filling process. They can have simultaneous duties but those duties should not take them off-site. Regular monitoring of the water level should be a priority.
Managerial oversight – The manager responsible for filling the pool should leave detailed instructions that include the estimated completion time, frequency of water level checks, and emergency protocols. He or she should be notified of completion or if the process takes more than 30 minutes beyond the time estimate. The branch or associate executive (or the manager on duty) should also monitor the status and should verify that the water is turned off before the building closes. If the filling process needs to continue beyond closing, it should be attended by one or more responsible staff members who remain on duty in the facility to monitor the process.

Utilize redundancies – Even when specific individuals are tasked with filling the pool, other staff can monitor progress and report concerns. Posting reminders to shut off the water throughout the facility is a good practice – some possible locations for these include the pool office, front desk, time clock room, and exit doors.

Check overflow drains – Ensure that the emergency drains are open and functioning properly before starting to fill the pool. Simply verifying that the pool overflow drain is in the open position may prevent a disaster.

Automatic shutoff valves / Water-sensing alarms – An inexpensive, failsafe, pool-filling kit can be assembled for about $50. Using two PVC adaptors (¾” female hose by
¾” female slip and ¾” female slip by 1” male threaded), a short section of ¾” PVC pipe and a float valve on the end of a ¾” hose creates a filling system that will automatically shut off when the pool is full. Securely place the shut-off valve at the desired pool level and turn on the water. The alarm can be positioned to provide notice of completion and/or failure of the shut-off valve. The two fittings and pipe can be purchased at most plumbing stores for less than $5 total. The float valve, including shipping, is $26 from USPlastic.com; the alarm is less than $18 from the HomeSecurityStore.com (shipping costs included).

Pools that use fixed piping for the filling process can also be fitted with shut-off valves and alarms – details vary with the configuration of your system – contact your local plumbing supply (the cost probably will be significantly higher). If the unspeakable occurs – Initiate water remediation as quickly as possible. The faster water is removed the less it is absorbed into structural materials and the faster it will dry. Open even small concealed spaces to expedite drying and prevent molding. Utilize fans to accelerate evaporation. Before filling any indoor swimming pool, be sure to have appropriate protocols that are understood and followed by your staff. Remember to secure the pool access doors so patrons or unauthorized staff do not enter and get injured.

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