Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Growth and Evolution of a Municipal Pool Safety and Inspection Program

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Growth and Evolution of a Municipal Pool Safety and Inspection Program

Article excerpt

Introduction

The city of Plano, Texas, has found creative ways to capitalize on safety and generate new sources of revenue through training and education in the pool industry. By using a nationally recognized certification course for pool operator training, chemistry violations found during formal inspections have dropped significantly. Construction violations have also shown a marked decrease due to an earlier level of involvement in pool construction by the environmental health department.

Plano is a home-rule municipality of about 250,000 people, covering a geographic area of 71 square miles, 15 miles north of Dallas. The health department currently is comprised of 13 environmental health specialists, five of whom perform swimming pool inspections on public and semi-public pools. Department records show the earliest pool inspection was conducted and recorded in 1992. The pool safety and inspection program has grown and developed into one of the largest programs in the department, second only to the food safety program. The department is not required to be self sufficient, and derives its funding from the city's general budget with revenue from operations being returned to the general fund. The pool program does not have its own cost center in the departmental budget.

The pool safety inspection program includes permitting, plan review, operator training, inspector training, and enforcement. Inspections are entered into an inspection software program, which makes violation and inspection tracking more effective.

Permitting

The permitting program is designed to cover the inspections and administrative costs for operating the program. In the early 1990s, Plano had a flat rate system, in which each pool was charged a $50 permit fee. This was changed to a tiered system in 1998, in which a property was charged $150 for the first pool and $50 for each pool thereafter. In 2006, a survey of the surrounding cities was performed and the fee schedule was changed to $200 for the first pool and $100 for each additional pool. Permit fees tripled from $22,185 in 2000 to $67,100 in 2007.

For permitting purposes, a swimming pool is defined in Plano ordinance as an independent body of water with its own circulation and filtration system. This definition allows multilevel pools to be counted as a single water body. Spas and wading pools on their own circulation systems are permitted as additional pools.

Figure 1 shows the increase in the number of permits issued in the pool program between 2000 and 2008. Each bar represents the number of pools permitted as of the first of the year. In the year 2000, Plano was in the middle of a significant growth period. In 2001, new construction slowed due to a weakening economy. The projected public and semi-public pool count for 2009 is approximately 410 permits. It is rare for a swimming pool to permanently close. Normally, this happens when an apartment complex or a hotel decides a spa is not worth maintenance challenges.

Figure 2 shows an increase in the number of each pool type in the city between 2006 and 2007. The largest increase occurred in the construction of new apartment complexes. Each of the other categories hotels, homeowners' association (HOA), therapy, and others showed small increases. The type "other" includes health clubs, private swimming lesson facilities, country clubs, and any other pool not associated with a medical or residential purpose. Therapy pools are those pools used by medical facilities for therapeutic purposes. The city does not permit or inspect private, residential pools or spas.

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Plan Review

Commercial pool plan review is a relatively new addition to the department. Before 2005, the building inspections department performed all commercial swimming pool plan reviews. The building inspectors were not trained in the construction standards for pools required by Texas Administrative Code, which caused problems for environmental health specialists and builders when pools were ready to open. …

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