Swapping Out the Liner on a 54-Year-Old Municipal Swimming Pool

Michael Popke Headshot
2 Z 324 Aq Oldlinerremoved1 Lg
All photos courtesy Dane Sheehan

Surrounded by Lake Mendota and Wisconsin's capital city of Madison, the cozy Village of Shorewood Hills is home to the area's only Olympic-size outdoor pool. The 50-meter, 10-lane municipal facility opened in 1970 and has remained self-sustaining ever since — thanks to a loyal and mostly local base of about 2,800 individual members who enjoy the pool from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend each year.

For the first several decades of its life, the Shorewood Hills Pool surface was cement. Its first liner, commonly referred to as a PVC pool membrane in the commercial pool world, was installed in 2010. After harsh winters and a 100-year- flood event in 2018, though, that material had begun to look weathered and worn by 2023, and pool crews needed to do some retucking and other maintenance tasks on a regular basis.

"You could tell it needed to be replaced just by looking at it," says Village Administrator Sharon Eveland.

Village officials thus were faced with a major decision: replace the liner now or wait a couple more seasons to get as much use out of it as possible.

"What we didn't want to happen was have the liner fail midseason," Eveland says. "So could we have gotten another year or two out of it? Possibly. But we were at the point where we were uneasy about keeping it, and adding in the fact that we knew it was just going to get more expensive to replace if we waited, it just wasn't worth the risk."

As things turned out, the decision to install a new 60-mil flexible RenoSys PVC membrane in late 2023 jumpstarted renewed interest in making both physical and operational improvements — some of them in time for Shorewood Hills Pool to host the 2024 Madison All-City Swim Meet this August. The host facility for that annual event rotates among the 13-team swim league's home pools and is considered one of the largest amateur outdoor swim meets in the United States. Shorewood Hills officials expect more than 3,000 people to visit their facility over the course of a single weekend.

Project complete: Despite the harsh Wisconsin winter conditions, the new liner was installed on time, ready for the May 2024 opening of the swim season.Project complete: Despite the harsh Wisconsin winter conditions, the new liner was installed on time, ready for the May 2024 opening of the swim season.

'STICKER SHOCK'

The Shorewood Hills Pool likely was one of the final outdoor projects completed in 2023 by Badger Swimpools, the commercial contractor tasked with replacing the original PVC liner. Crews couldn't drain the pool until late September, after a local swim club and a girls' high school team concluded their outdoor training regimens. The timing ensured that the new installation wouldn't displace any user groups, but it also meant the project wouldn't wrap up until late November.

Given south-central Wisconsin's climate, working so late into the calendar year could have resulted in some weather-related challenges. But as long as temperatures stay above freezing while workers are onsite, cold weather should not impact the installation of an outdoor PVC membrane, according to Mike Comstock, vice president of sales for RenoSys Corp., a commercial pool construction and renovation company based in Indianapolis. Fortunately, there was no early freeze during this project.

Prior to the liner replacement, village officials hired a firm to conduct a structural assessment of the concrete underneath the existing liner, at a cost of about $4,800. Other than a few minor repairs, the original concrete was still in good condition — which is not always the case with pools more than a half-century old.

"It's always good to have something like [a concrete inspection] done, especially with a pool that age," Comstock says.

Eveland says village officials have "been toying with the idea of possibly going back to concrete and not using a pool liner when the new liner [needs replacing], because we had sticker shock when we found out the price for a new liner."

Installation of the previous liner cost about $100,000, she notes, while the new one cost more than $314,000. Before sending the project out to bid, Eveland and her staff were not expecting to pay more than $200,000.

"It's really one of the most cost- effective ways to go, to be honest with you," Comstock explains, comparing the cost of a PVC membrane replacement with other conventional renovation options.

The membrane's textured surface provides nonabrasive slip resistance, is pore-free for ease of maintenance and offers watertight containment for deteriorated pools that are experiencing leaks, according to the company.

Comstock adds that facility operators replacing an old membrane with a new one also need to take into consideration the cost of removing the existing material, which can add to the price tag.

"Typically, when we do a project, what I quote is what the client pays," Comstock says. "Now, we do run into unforeseen site conditions, which are out of our control. So we'll sometimes have to add additional prep work. But what we did on this project is what we quoted. Everything went very smoothly."

Aerial shot of the pool, pre-renovation, and the surrounding University of Wisconsin campus, with downtown Madison and the Capitol in the distance.Aerial shot of the pool, pre-renovation, and the surrounding University of Wisconsin campus, with downtown Madison and the Capitol in the distance.

'AN ICON IN THIS COMMUNITY'

The self-sustaining operations model and fee structure for the Shorewood Hills Pool allows village officials greater flexibility than many of their municipal peers.

"Recreation, across the board, for municipalities is typically subsidized at some level by the taxpayers; most recreational activities are not solely user- funded," Eveland says. "Municipalities are really hamstrung by what we can do to raise revenue and how much we can increase our tax base from one year to the next. When you're having to use taxpayer money to sustain something like a pool, it makes it very difficult to afford things. But when I came [to Shorewood Hill], I was like, 'Oh, wow, we can actually operate this pool without taxpayer money.' That's when you can really start to see the benefits."

Now, with a new PVC liner in place for the start of the 2024 season — and an influx of visitors expected at the Madison All-City Swim Meet — both village officials and pool users are keen on making more improvements.

"When we started talking about this project with members, they started asking about X, Y and Z that needs to get fixed," Eveland says. "That was when the conversation about the broader picture of our facility really came into play — looking at the building, the concessions. What's the long-term plan for the facility?"

One major operational change has already been implemented. This will be the first year the Shorewood Hills Pool is overseen by a full-time pool manager rather than, in Eveland's words, "a quasi- seasonal pool manager" — which made it difficult to recruit and retain someone in that position every year. "If we really want to operate our pool at a high level, we need to provide the appropriate staffing, and for us that means a full- time pool manager," she says.

That person is 23-year-old Dane Sheehan, who began swimming for the Shorewood Hills Swim Team when he was eight, started working at the pool while in high school and spent the previous three summers as an assistant manager at the facility. "My first year on the swim team was the last time we hosted the All-City Meet," he says, noting the full-circle moment.

Other discussions have focused on the future of the facility's original building, which serves as the entrance to the pool and houses locker rooms, showers, offices and storage. "Do we renovate? Do we tear it down and build a new one? And how do we fund that?" Eveland asks. "We do know that whenever we make a major decision about the facility that we're going to need to borrow funds for that, and so we need to make sure our finances are where they need to be so that the debt can be completely self-sustaining."

The liner replacement project "significantly depleted" the facility's cash reserves, and the swimming pool will be increasing membership fees, she adds. This year's fees are $606 per family and $757 for a family that lives outside the village limits; fees for couples and individuals range from $68 to $531. Grants funded through user fees, along with a variety of donations, help cover membership costs for those who need financial assistance.

"I couldn't imagine us not having the pool," Eveland says, referring to the generations of members who still make the facility a vital part of their summers. "People really love this place; people who raised their kids here and still live in the village will have their grandkids come stay with them for the summer and will take them to experience the pool. It's an icon in this community." 

Page 1 of 1275
Next Page
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
AB Show 2024 in New Orleans
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov. 19-22, 2024
Learn More
AB Show 2024