Serving the local swim team and students of the South Puttman high school along with members of the surrounding community – day in and day out, 12 months a year – generally does not make for splashy headlines or warrant national media attention. But it is exactly this type of pool with which most pool managers in North America are intimately familiar. Nearly everyone at one point or another in his or her career has or will manage a pool much like it.

The South Putnam High School pool’s strengths include a dedicated and professional coach/pool manager and a community fully committed to its support. Its weaknesses – before a recent renovation was undertaken – included a deteriorated and badly corroded metal gutter, a completely worn out diatomaceous earth (DE) filter tank, a potentially unsafe diving stand, a pool finish that was badly chipped and faded, a lack of modem automatic pool controls and a severely limited budget.

Thousands of pools like South Putnam’s are scattered in communities across North America Built in the 1940s and 1950s. These pools, rectangular or L-shaped, indoor or outdoor-make up the backbone of American recreational swimming. Constructed at schools, parks and YMCAs, often with local fundraising support, the small community pool frequently struggles with finite resources and slowly but steadily deteriorating infrastructures. Unattractive, worn-out pools tend to draw fewer and fewer patrons to support the facility. It can feel like a downward spiral to the manager, who is attempting to keep the facility operating on continually diminishing revenues and attendance.

As the professional pool design community develops even more intricate water play complexes and increasingly expensive “Fastest Pool in the World Natatoriums,” the reality for many pool managers is a fixed revenue stream for a pool that is 15 to 30 years old and that is a season or two away from some kind of renovation.

One Pool’s Renovation

The story of the South Putnam pool, then, is about what can be done with finite resources to transform a pool into something of which the community can be proud. It is about affordably taking a pool from a deteriorated condition to something that can generate local pride and renewed commitment, while reducing long-term maintenance costs.
The South Putnam pool is a 75-foot by 45-foot, indoor, six-lane competitive rectangular pool that sits among the rolling hills and farms 45 miles west of Indianapolis. The year-round facility serves the rural Indiana community of Putnam County and nearby Greencastle. Like many pool renovation projects where there are serious pool problems and limited funds available to accomplish a major renovation, the project began with community and school board meetings to discuss the problems and to prioritize and appropriate the necessary money to accomplish the design and renovation.

Earl Williams, superintendent of the school corporation, appointed Joe Condon, the school swim coach and pool manager, to determine what should be accomplished with the funds available. He became the owner’s representative in all pool renovation related dealings.

The pool’s biggest problem centered around the deteriorated metal pool gutter and filter tank. The pool shell was on its last leg and the fiberglass was starting to chip and delaminate, according to Condon. “Our old gutter was in terrible shape. In some places, you could nearly put your finger through it. Every time we backwashed, rust chips would be blown into the pool. We used to have to go around and unclog the rust flakes from the water inlet holes with a pipe reamer,” he said.

The design firm hired by the school board to work with the school staff in solving the pool’s problems was Odle McGuire and Shook of Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana. Upon preliminary investigations, project architect Jim Bradley and engineer Bob Dimond of Dimond an Associates, Indianapolis, found the primary concern to be “solving the problems of a seriously deteriorated pool infrastructure with a very limited budget.”

The prioritization of needs was determined by the design team, and plans and specifications were drawn up to meet current state health codes. The final plans and specifications called for a scope of work that included:

  • Demolition and replacement of the gutter;
  • Replacement of the existing corrode DE filter system with a high-rate sand filter;
  • Replacement of the existing diving stand and board;
  • Miscellaneous deck equipment replacement;
  • Miscellaneous piping replacement;
  • Ventilation improvements;
  • Modifying the pool access system; and
  • Sandblasting out the old glass system and repainting the existing pool shell.

Contractors were asked to bid on an alternate to line the existing pool with a reinforced PVC membrane system instead of painting or plastering.

The bid was structured so the school board could select from a menu-style price list, comparing the items to be renovated with the available funds. According to the architect, “the customer knew what the basic needs were: a new gutter and a new filter. We designed the project and set up the specifications so the owner was free to choose those alternate items that best matched the priority list with the available funds.”

Before the bid opening, but after the design was essentially completed and being reviewed by potential bidders, the architect was presented with a new concept for an extruded PVC pool gutter. “The gutter design originally had centered around a stainless steel gutter system, because that was what was known to us at the time,” Bradley said. The new concept – an extruded seamless, all PVC integral supply and return gutter functioned in a manner similar to the metal gutter systems. Although it was a new product, after review by the architect, the owner and engineer for the school corporation, the DuraTech gutter system was allowed to be bid as a deductive alternate to the base bid. “The gutter option was set up as a no-risk option to the owner, allowing us to bid the project and evaluate it fully after the bid,” Bradley said.

On the bid date, the combined numbers from contractors came in near budgetary projections, and the flexibility afforded by the various alternate bid items enabled the board and decision-makers to match their priority lists with the available budget. “The concept of employing alternates to the base bid allowed the owner to match priorities closely with the available funds. What it really did was offer the owner flexibility,” Bradley said.

The entire project budget was $170,000. The bid from the alternate for the PVC gutter system and filter renovation came in at just under $130,000. With the direct cost savings, the school district was able to resurface the high school’s running track.

The Factors Involved

Three key decisions had to be made by the design team prior to awarding the con­tract. They involved choosing a filter, a gutter system and a pool finish or lining system.

The low bidder had proposed a relatively inexpensive relining renovation of the existing DE filter tank as an option to keep down overall costs. Although the pool manager really wanted the ease of operation of a new high-rate sand system, complete with automatic controls, the saving of renovating the existing filter was nearly $35,000, making filter replacement hard to justify. Under the proposal, the ultimate result – cleaning and filtering the pool water in accordance with code requirements was the same.

The PVC gutter system manufacturer had been allowed to submit a bid to the owner as an alternate system, but it was necessary to determine which gutter material would best meet the long-term facility needs most cost-effectively. The final recommendation to go ahead with the relatively new PVC gutter was a combined decision by the pool manager, the school maintenance director and the architectural and engineering design team.

After doing extensive research and speaking with previous clients of the firm, the pool committee decided to recommend it while still leaving the decision up to the school corporation. “It was really the investigation of the manufacturer’s track record that gave us the confidence to go ahead and give the new gutter system a shot,” Bradley said. Both Joe Condon and Randy Reitzel, the school’s director of maintenance, were convinced from a plant visit and by examining a full-scale model of the extruded gutter that the PVC gutter option would last longer.

“We felt it would withstand the corrosive pool environment better than the stainless and felt the entire PVC gutter package was much more attractive,” Condon said, adding that the PVC system was designed to be extra wide so the system could act as a continuous rim flow gutter and not employ any skimmers.

“To me, skimmers installed at comers defeat the purpose of having a gutter installed,” Condon said. Another thing that impressed me was that the PVC gutter was extra wide and, from a standpoint of teaching lessons with little kids, the width would provide a ready-made seat for easy access: in and out of the pool.”

The decision by the school board to line the pool rather than paint it was based upon long-term cost savings in terms of maintenance ease and longevity. Bradley noted that the “old surface required constant attention.”

At the final award meeting, the school corporation went along with the recommendations of the pool committee to select the liner option. The contract was awarded in the fall of 1993 to the lowest bidder, Aquatic Renovation Systems (also know as RenoSys), Indianapolis, a national company specializing in commercial PVC pool renovations. The project finally had advanced from the long design and bid phases into the construction phase.

The first construction steps involved the saw-cut and demolition of the entire perimeter, removing the old corroded gutter and underlying concrete and preparing the wall top for the installation of the new PVC gutter. The deck was cut open and demolition of the old piping into the filter room was accomplished. Shortly thereafter, the gutter installation began. Because each PVC tube section was 36 feet long, several workers were required to lift the gutter assembly into place and level it on the wall top. After mitering all the corners and fusion-welding together the entire gutter supply and return sections, the pool was ready for pipe connections, concrete grouting around the gutter and deck re-tiling. Additional deck work was completed during this time, including rebuilding the corroded dive stand, installing new face piping and elements in the DE filter and preparing the pool and filter tank for installation of the reinforced PVC liner.

The reinforced liner systems are custom fabricated on site using 60-mil textured reinforced PVC sheets that are fuse-welded together over an under-padding system inside the existing pool shell. Flanges and compression rings are installed at any points where the thick liner needs to be penetrated – at lights, main drains and around the pool perimeter where it connects to the gutter. Racing lanes and markings are then melted onto the new PVC pool surface with a 40-mil thick, textured, black material to provide clear markings.

Performance Results

“Every month that the gutter continues to perform its job, I become a bigger and bigger fan. The whole project really turned out attractively,” Bradley said.”We couldn’t be more pleased,” Joe Condon reported. “We used to have the worst facility in our swim conference. Now, our pool is the finest in the area. I get all kinds of positive comments on it. From a competitive standpoint, it holds up to any pool I’ve ever been in. The gutter doesn’t reflect waves, so it makes the pool very fast. Swim team members have commented that, because the pool walls and gutter are softer than concrete or metal, they can really go after turns.”

“Our seniors and kids really appreciate the ease of access and the slip-resistance of the liner,” Condon said. “And from an attractiveness standpoint, it is a real showpiece for the school. The aesthetic value is a real plus, and it makes the kids feel proud to come into a bright, clean, attractive facility. Our attendance from the community open swim program has doubled, and more students are trying out for the swim team than ever before because they are so much more comfortable with the pool.”

Combine a tired and worn-out pool with a committed community, add one dedicated pool manager, a professional design approach and mix in an innovative, responsive pool renovation contractor and the end result is a pool that truly works – an asset to the surrounding area and a vital part of the aquatic community.