Key Concepts to a Successful Pool Renovation

(Photos by David Wakely)
(Photos by David Wakely)

Now that the economy seems to be solid in its recovery, many aquatics professionals are looking to renovate or reinvest in their facilities. But before jumping into a major or even minor renovation, there are some key components facility owners must consider.

The first step is to understand the purpose of the renovation. Once the reason driving the project is identified, facility operators can better understand the overall goals and intentions and manage the process to best meet these goals and budgets.

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There are six major reasons that facilities decide to renovate: health and safety issues, needed repairs, modernization, reduction of operating expenses, programming requirements or code compliance.

Health and safety issues are a common driver for renovation projects, whether a specific incident has occurred or ongoing risk management has identified an issue. If the sole reason to renovate is to eliminate a health and safety concern, this is typically a renovation project best served by trying to resolve the issues quickly and minimize costs.

FRESH WATER Renovations to Hamilton Pool in Novato, Calif. replaced a 20- by 50-yard pool with a 25-yard pool and 1,778-square-foot wading pool with a play structure. (Photos by David Wakely) - Click here to see moreFRESH WATER Renovations to Hamilton Pool in Novato, Calif. replaced a 20- by 50-yard pool with a 25-yard pool and 1,778-square-foot wading pool with a play structure. (Photos by David Wakely) - Click here to see more

Needed repair is another common reason to renovate a facility. Repairs to make a facility more reliable should be included in a planned renovation, but repairs needed due to equipment failure must be conducted as quickly as possible to resume programming. When planned renovations for needed repairs are conducted, the staff has the opportunity to shop for price and material options. Emergency repairs often require the facility to pick the quickest option, leaving little room for price or feature comparisons. Such emergency projects exemplify the need to maintain complete and accurate equipment manuals with sizes, model numbers and known suppliers' contact information.

Modernization projects occur when the owner or operator determines that a facility must be upgraded to meet current standards and remain competitive. The existing equipment or materials may be at the end of their expected life cycle, or may be simply tired and not representative of a facility's desired image. It can be driven by a desire to retain clients, attract new clients or justify higher fees. Such renovations focus on the features and benefits of the products and materials chosen, with a goal of maximizing utility rather than reducing costs.

Reduction of operating expenses is a common reason to renovate. When budgets allow, facilities will often look to invest in equipment and systems that can save money, time or other resources. Renovations are about choosing the best features and performance. Many vendors will offer operating-cost analysis to help sell their products or services. It is important to review proposed return on investment to determine a product's relevance and impact to the existing system and methods of operation.

Renovations can be needed when a facility does not meet programming needs. The existing equipment may have aged and can no longer provide the level of performance desired, or desired programs may have made the facility obsolete. These types of renovations are intended to increase the product offering, making the choice of product or material finishes important.

Code compliance is the last major reason for a renovation. Codes are constantly evolving and changing, though in many cases a new code does not require that a facility renovate. The facility is allowed to continue to operate under a grandfathered approval, since its original installation was compliant at the time it was constructed or installed. Once a renovation process for other reasons is started, operators may find that the local plan review authority requires them to bring previous grandfathered items up to current code standards as part of the project. Some codes can be enacted that do not allow for grandfathered approval. Two recent examples are the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which require immediate compliance for municipal pools.

Renovation projects that address existing problems are considered the cost of doing business. These types of projects should be managed to minimize costs and time of renovation. Renovation projects that are identified value-added projects are projects that can add value to existing programs or provide for new and expanded programs. These types of projects should strive to achieve a maximum utility and output for the programs and services they are intended to serve.

A successful renovation project must identify the needs of the desired or projected programs as well as the stakeholders — everyone from the facility's users to the operations and maintenance staff. How does the renovation affect the budgets for the purchasing department, or the labor and operating expenses for the maintenance and operations departments?

While a renovation project can provide automation and a means to reduce maintenance and labor requirements, it can also be overbuilt, as well. An aquatics facility in the San Francisco area recently planned a renovation of its pools, pool decks and pool mechanical equipment. The original architect recommended the replacement of the existing high-rate sand filters with new fully automatic ones. Unfortunately, the architect did not realize that the facility used an outside pool service to maintain the pools and pool mechanical equipment, and that the maintenance company manually backwashed the filters and would not be able to use an automated system. Had the facility not identified the program and stakeholder needs, they could have spent more than $50,000 for a new automatic filter system that would have never been used. Instead, they were able to redirect $50,000 to enhancing the facility and patron experience.

It is often recommended to identify two or more options for materials and equipment to allow for competitive bidding and the best possible pricing during a renovation. In some instances, only a particular brand of equipment can provide the precise features or benefits, and there are no second options. This is referred to as Best Available Technology and can be done in public bid projects if the correct level of documentation is obtained. When evaluating mechanical equipment, it is important to not only consider the features and benefits of the equipment, but the availability and reliability of local warranty and service support for the equipment. Such intangibles can be as important as the equipment itself for the long-term success of a facility.

When deciding to embark on a renovation project, you will need to determine the project delivery method.

The most common method is design-bid-build. This method utilizes a design professional to conduct the programming and conceptual phases to assist the owner in determining the programs and stakeholders and how the project can best serve them. The intent of this delivery method is to have 100 percent construction documentation in terms of plans and technical specifications to allow competitive bidding by contractors and then hiring a contractor to build the project. During the construction period, the design professional will follow the project to help confirm that the project is in compliance with the construction documents.

In a design-build project, contractors are interviewed to determine the best fit and selected to both design and build the project. This method can help alleviate change orders, but it reduces the opportunity to competitive-bid one contractor versus another. This can be an example of apples to oranges; it can be difficult at times to compare various bids from contractors when they are using different materials and equipment.

In some renovations an owner may try to reduce expenses by using a design by vendor method. Some manufacturers or their distributors can offer to design a minor renovation project as a means to sell their product. The advantage to this method is that the design is typically offered free when the equipment is purchased. The disadvantage is that an owner is locked into one manufacturer's equipment and cannot subject it to a competitive-bid process.

Regardless of the project scope and delivery method, the key to a successful renovation project is to complete a thorough planning phase to establish the needs and goals of the project. This allows everyone to establish metrics analysis of the project's minimum needs, desired components and luxury components. These prioritized lists allow you to manage your project within a given budget.

One last component is to remember that there are soft costs to include in the budget. Soft costs can entail plan check fees from the health department, inspection and testing fees, or other non-construction costs. With good control of the project scope and budget, a renovation project can meet or exceed everyone's expectations.

Dennis Berkshire is president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Aquatic Design Group. This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Athletic Business with the headline "Renovation Ripple Effect."

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