It’s a scorching 92 degrees in Manhattan and many city-dwellers are dreading the traffic-filled ride to the beach or the long bus or rail commute to the Hamptons. But for some lucky co-op and condo owners, relief—in the form of an in-house swimming pool—is just steps away.
A swimming pool is a rare and valuable amenity for any residential building, and a real treat in the summer—just ask the residents of 325 Fifth Avenue, or those living in the condo at 10 West Avenue or those lucky enough to go swimming each day at The Towers at Water’s Edge, a private waterfront community in the upscale Bay Terrace neighborhood of Bayside, Queens.
Over the past few years, there has been a boom in private swimming pools in New York City, as more and more luxury condominium developments include a pool in their design. Twenty years ago, these pools were mostly on rooftops—but today’s developers have learned that the real estate up there is put to much more profitable use by creating penthouses, so the majority of pools are now built indoors.
“Health clubs with pools are the biggest sellers these days, so of all the new condominiums going up, I would say 80 percent or more have pools,” says Don Amblo, vice president of operations for American Leisure in Nanuet, which services close to 70 pools in New York City.
Maintaining a safe, sanitary, and attractive pool area is no small undertaking. You can’t just have your super get out a vacuum and net and clean the pool himself. Depending on the size of your pool, your building may need a full pool staff to run the facility (and often the health club, sauna and steam room as well) and make sure that everything is up to code and in top shape for your residents.
In addition to physical maintenance and upkeep, Amblo’s company also provides pool management and lifeguard service. “Board members hire us because, for liability purposes, they would rather have another company come in and make sure that everyone’s certified and guarded,” says Amblo.
A Pool is Cool
If you are on the board of a new pool-equipped building, or just want to bring in a new pool management company to handle the day-to-day operations of an existing facility, a lot will go into figuring out the best options for your particular community.
“Each individual pool is different,” says Simon Grunfeld, owner of Eden Sports in Manhattan, which offers health club and pool management services for co-ops and condos throughout New York. “Some pools are tiled, some are metal, and some are concrete. It really depends on the makeup of the pool, it depends on the filtration system and depends on whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Obviously the outdoor ones require a lot more maintenance because they are subjected to environmental issues.”
Hiring a company to care for your pool and surrounding elements is really a necessity, as they have the experience and staff to do everything that’s required. In fact, when a building hires a pool management company, they handle almost every day-to-day part of the operation.
“There’s a lot that we do when you bring us in,” says Joe Grimes, president of EPG Spa & Total Pool Management in Manhattan, which specializes in full service pool and health club management to luxury buildings throughout New York City and Westchester. “We provide certified pool operators and lifeguards, who manage the day-to-day facilities such as keeping the pool water clean, the chemical balance up to health department regulations, maintain the filter system and any repairs that need to be made, we bring to [the building’s] attention.”
All Hands on Deck
One of the biggest things that a pool management company does is provide the proper staff for a pool.
“This ties in with the arrangement you have with the facility,” Grunfeld says. “Some staff on hand is in charge of cleanliness and everything. Some staff is responsible for maintaining and monitoring the various [chemical] solutions.”
Grimes says that at every pool they service, there is a pool operator on hand to perform the day-to-day operations and a certified area manager who comes around weekly to make sure everything is running properly.
“Staffing is first and foremost the reason why pros are called in,” Grunfeld adds. “The powers that be have to make sure that there is someone there all the time and that their certification is up to date. They have to make sure there is a qualified or certified pool operator who knows how to maintain and create the correct water and pH balance, needs to deal with chemicals, knows how to order materials and supplies and how to schedule shifts.”
Since it is a New York state law that lifeguards are required at all pools, the companies also provide a regular lifeguard staff. And because buildings with private swimming pools tend to be luxury buildings, their residents are used to being pampered and the pool staff are to keep this in mind, whether that means being in uniform at all times, or providing an extra measure of customer service to residents.
“Some buildings have towel service and they want to be catered to,” Grimes says. “Whatever a building is looking for, that’s what our staff provides.”
Everyone knows that you need to vacuum a pool and add chemicals, but it’s important that the right mixture is used, and that the pool is cleaned regularly.
“A visual check is the first step in caring for the pool. You have to monitor it to make sure everything is OK,” Grunfeld says. “What they have to do throughout the day is take readings. Depending the number of people using the facility, they may need to do it twice a day, or even every few hours. They have to take pH and chlorine readings, and they may have to check alkaloids depending on the chemicals.”
The wrong chemicals or an improper amount of chlorine can turn the water green, or even make it dangerous for swimmers.
When it comes to day-to-day pool care, a building super will have some responsibility, but not much. Generally they are responsible for the heavy cleaning of the health club area itself and the areas immediately surrounding the pool.
Indoor or Out?
Indoor and outdoor pools require similar maintenance procedures. They both require a certified lifeguard to be on duty at all times, their chemical levels must be taken every two hours, and adjusted if necessary and the pool must be vacuumed, and the filters must be maintained and cleaned.
“The only difference with the outdoor pool is you have a lot of sunlight, which eats up the chlorine a lot quicker,” Amblo says. “An outdoor pool also usually has more people using it because it’s seasonal.”
Outdoor facilities are also exposed to more elements, from rain and sun to tanning oils and sunscreen products. When an outdoor pool is closed for the season—usually right around Labor Day—it should be winterized.
“You take out the ladders, put winterizing liquid inside so the pipes don’t freeze, take pumps and motors out of the filters to maintain and put covers on,” Amblo says. “Once a year in winter, you drain and clean the pool.”
Tools of the Trade
When it comes to equipment for the pool, all the necessary things are generally left onsite by the management company.
“There’s a whole range of vacuums, both robots and manual,” Grunfeld says. “It all depends on the type of filtration system set up. Some don’t allow for manual vacuums and some don’t allow for the robots.”
You’ll also need nets, low-grade chemicals to clean scum lines, rakes for leaves and a prodding tool to deal with clogged drains and grates.
Besides the standard cleaning equipment, Grimes also says it’s necessary to have a number of things on hand at the pool.
“We have certain backboards and the floatation devices,” he says. “We need blankets, CPR equipment, there’s a whole list of things required by the health department. You need to make sure that everything is in order, because inspectors come out twice a year.”
Typically, when a pool management company is brought in to handle a residential building’s facility, they are hired as a package deal to service the building’s health club as well. This means they need to take care of the saunas and steam rooms and possibly provide staff for classes that residents may want to take.
“Usually our contract is to take over everything,” Grunfeld says. “The Board of Health comes in and checks the sauna and steam room. [For a sauna] there has to be a limit on the maximum temperature, and an alarm that will sound if it goes over. You have to prove that the alarm goes off, and that you can shut it off.”
For both saunas and steam rooms, staff need to maintain the temperature, check on a weekly basis to make sure they are in range of the temperature, clean them and report any problems to the managing agent or building super.
Many pool management companies have diversified their range of services in recent years to include things like swim aerobics for children and the elderly. Some also provide step aerobics, kick boxing, yoga and other classes in the health club.
“We have massage therapists and personal trainers,” Grimes says of his firm. “Whatever the building residents are looking for. Many of our buildings have that built into the contracts and specify the number of classes we need to offer.”
Having a pool presents a significant insurance risk. There’s always the chance someone could injure themselves by slipping on a wet spot, and despite lifeguards being present, there’s always the chance that something more serious could happen in the water.
Then there’s the risk to property that a pool represents. A four-foot-deep, 20-by-40-foot pool holds about 24,000 gallons and weighs over 90 tons. If the pool springs a leak, or a filling hose is left on accidentally, the immediate consequences can be devastating to the physical structure of a building. Clearly, an off-the-shelf million-dollar insurance policy isn’t going to cut it. Grimes says his company is insured into the millions per incident and they also have an umbrella policy, but buildings have to cover themselves as well.
“Most condos sub out the pool to a swimming pool management company. They then open the pool, service the pool, staff the pool with lifeguards—everything,” says Tom Fontana, president of the Property & Casualty Group Insurance Co. in Cranford, New Jersey. “But the condo association still needs their insurance for the pool in case an incident arises, and even though the building is probably listed as an additionally insured under the swimming pool management’s policy. There are still claims that can arise that can be the responsibility of the association. A trip and fall, or some concrete coming apart, etc.”
There’s no set price for a pool management company but fees and figures are usually decided by a number of things.
“Basically, you determine how many hours a day will the pool be open? Will they need one or two lifeguards? A receptionist? Towel person? Porter? It runs the gamut,” Grimes says. “The formula is something like the number of people times the hours involved, whether there are trainers or class instructors, and we also provide chemicals for the pool. That all figures into the pricing.”
For buildings that think they can get by without a management company helping them run the pool, they need to realize that despite the heroic title, a super really can’t do everything.
“A building super can take care of the pool to an extent,” Grimes says. “But the super is not always there to make sure the staff is there, he’s not always there to make sure the chemicals are right, they are concerned with running the building and don’t have the time needed to maintain a pool.”
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor toThe Cooperator.