Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Remote Monitoring for Unstaffed Pools

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Remote Monitoring for Unstaffed Pools

Article excerpt

In the early 1980s, the Lee County Parks and Recreation Aquatics Program was understaffed, underfunded, and under strict regulations requiring clean, safe conditions at each of its pools. Water chemistry at unstaffed pools had to be checked each morning and evening, so technicians drove all over the county to run tests and manually adjust chemical feed rates. There was little time left for vacuuming, cleaning, or troubleshooting. The situation was terrible.

Today, the same aquatics department employs one senior recreation specialist to oversee 10 pools, five of which are unstaffed. He visits each unstaffed pool at least once a week to perform routine maintenance and a basic wet test. At the staffed pools, deck personnel test the water three times daily as required but seldom report any deviations in chlorine residual and pH levels. They do not touch the chemical feed controls, but the pools stay in sparkling clean condition. The aquatic budget projects annual savings of more than $30,000 in labor and maintenance costs. The situation is now great.

How did the Lee County Parks and Recreation Division accomplish this? It improved chemical treatment at every pool by installing automated water-chemistry control systems. These controllers are designed to continuously dispense chlorine and carbon dioxide for disinfection and pH control, eliminating the need for constant manual checks and adjustments.

A New Operating System

In 1995, the aquatics program upgraded to a computer-based control system at the five unstaffed pools. This unit provides a 24-hour modem link to the pools, so while at another location, the supervisor can check and -- if needed -- modify current conditions with a click of the mouse. Thanks to the annual savings it generates, the system will pay for itself in 18 months.

The Lee County Parks and Recreation staff constantly evaluates new developments that extend their system capabilities. They are currently assessing an alarm-paging option that extends automated maintenance even further. With the new feature, if a problem arises, designated personnel receive a page with a digital readout explaining the problem. The system will page only the person on call, or can be programmed to page a sequence of employees.

Miles to Go, Pools to Keep

The Lee County Parks and Recreation Division presently operates 10 pools throughout the county (see map). The drive between Lehigh Pool, far to the east, and Pine Island Pool, at the western extremity, is more than 30 miles. From there to Bonita, the southernmost pool, is about 25 miles. The smallest pool holds 165,000 gallons, while the largest holds 225,000. All pools are heated year-round to approximately 87 [degrees] F.

Lee County pools are sanitized with liquid chlorine -- instead of gas chlorine -- to minimize safety hazards. Carbon dioxide provides pH and alkalinity adjustment.

An on-site supervisor and one additional lifeguard operate each staffed pool. The five unstaffed pools are used by the high schools and local swim teams, except for eight weeks during the summer, when they are staffed and open to the public. The pools average 125,000 units of service a year, including participants in athletic competitions, swim lessons, kayaking, scuba training, suntan-lotion testing, hydrotherapy, aerobics, private rentals, and open swim.

Downsizing

Water-chemistry worries dwindled when the automated controllers were installed in 1981, but the unstaffed pools still required daily checks. The aquatics maintenance staff originally included a supervisor and two technicians to check these pools and make weekly visits to the staffed pools.

In 1994, internal reorganization and downsizing reduced the county's aquatics maintenance program. After they were down to two technicians, one quit, leaving the other solely responsible for taking care of general maintenance at the 10 pools. …

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