With summer fast approaching, no other amenity in a residential community is enjoyed more than the community swimming pool. From the community's perspective, a swimming pool can add to the value of the residences and attract prospective buyers. It's also seen as an amenity that can bring the residents of a community together; a gathering place where people can meet, relax, and socialize.
However, managing and maintaining a community swimming pool is a major investment in time, energy and money. In order for a community swimming pool to be safe, successful, and enjoyable, its management must address many issues including liability, usage regulations and maintenance. Proper management is the key to retaining a pool's value—but it's a big job.
Community property managers play a key role in the day-to-day management and operation of the swimming pool. Their responsibilities range from obtaining the proper permits and licenses to training the staff on the pool rules and regulations.
"As the community manager, I am responsible for obtaining permits to operate and open the pool," says Rochelle Caruso, community manager at Society Hill at Kilmer Woods Village II in Mahwah. "I make sure our licenses with the Town of Mahwah and the Board of Health are up to date. I also make certain our yearly electrical inspection goes smoothly."
"The community manager is also responsible for contracting the pool vendor who will provide the ongoing maintenance as well as trained lifeguards," Caruso continues.
"The lifeguards are trained and certified by the American Red Cross. In addition to this training, the manager must also train the lifeguards about the swimming pool; including the rules of operations and providing pool badges and the sign-in process. Lastly, the manager needs to make sure all the rules and regulations are clearly posted around the pool area."
Setting the Rules
It is vital for a community to set clear rules and guidelines for residents to follow when using the swimming pool. By setting a comprehensive set of rules and communicating the rules to all the residents, the community ensures the safety of its residents and reduces its liability.
The procedure for laying down rules and regulations governing swimming pools varies somewhat from community to community. In some instances, the HOA will meet and set the rules and regulations collectively. Other associatons may adopt the rules and guidelines from other community pools or municipal pools.
"If the swimming pool is newly constructed, the pool company may provide the HOA suggested rules and guidelines," says Liz Duttino, regional director of Paramus-based Wentworth Property Management.
"Our board decided to adopt a combination of the swimming pool rules from the Township of Mahwah and the Board of Health's code," says Caruso. "Some of the rules and regulations include:
• Pool badges must be worn at all times, including while swimming. Residents must sign in at the lifeguard stand. If badge is not being worn, the resident will be asked to leave.
• A resident must accompany guests at all times.
• No running around the deck area. No diving or horseplay.
• An adult must accompany children under 12 years of age.
• No glass bottles or containers in the pool area.
• Any person with excessive sunburn, open blisters, cuts or bandages shall be denied admission."
These are just a sample of some of the rules a community can adopt to help safely manage activities in and around their pool. Whether your HOA comes up with the rules or adopts them from the township, Board of Health or a qualified third party—such as an independent consultant—the community has to make sure the rules are fair, clear and collectively reduce the chances of a mishap.
Rules do have to be judiciously formulated and applied, of course. Making rules too broad or too narrow can lead to legal problems for an association.
"There is never an age restriction forbidding someone under a certain age access to the pool," Duttino points out. "There can be a rule restricting children under 12 from using the pool without adult supervision, but I know of one community that had a rule prohibiting minors from using the pool after certain hour They were sued for age discrimination."
Staffing and Managing
It is crucial a pool be well maintained to prevent accidents from occurring. Proper maintenance also protects the pool from damage and prevents it from damaging the surrounding property. This is where professional pool management companies come in.
Professional pool management companies specialize in managing swimming pools and health club facilities for co-ops, condos and other residential communities—some even provide lifeguard and maintenance staffing. The majority of communities with pools use these companies, in part because of the reservoir of employees they provide, and also to reduce the burden on their managing agent.
Swimming pool management companies frequently train their own lifeguards and Certified Pool Operators (CPOs); by law there must a CPO at the pool, so it is very convenient for the lifeguard to have this certification. Lifeguards are also usually responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the pool.
One challenge with a community pool and the pool management company is maintaining the appropriate staffing levels. Many of the pool employees are transient. Consider lifeguards, for example.
"A majority of the lifeguards are young kids, high school and college kids. They know it is a summer job. Some of them spend their time on their cell phones or reading instead of paying attention to what is going on around them," explains Caruso.
So how many people does it take to run a pool? There are many factors such as community size, pool size and the amount of money the HOA is willing to spend that will decide how many employees to hire.
"At Kilmer Woods II, there are 466 units," says Duttino. "During the busy hours in the summer—between 11 a.m. and noon, and between 3 and 4 p.m., we have two lifeguards on duty. On the weekends, we have two lifeguards on duty all day long. We also have a pool supervisor who is on call in case of a problem."
One of the biggest advantages of using a swimming pool management company is that these companies are also insured and assume most, if not all, of the responsibility for the pool's safety and cleanliness.
"HOAs will ask us whether they should self-manage the operations and maintenance of their community pools or should they hire professionals to manage their pool operations," says Duttino. "We always recommend the HOA contract a professional pool management company to do the job. They are insured and will assume all liability for the pool. Generally, the property's management company will not assume responsibility for a pool in a self-managed community pool."
"When hiring or reviewing potential pool management companies, you should always ensure their insurance policies offer complete coverage," says Caruso. "Request a copy of their insurance certificates. The last thing you want is to hire a company that does not have the appropriate insurance coverage."
Insuring Your Investment
Contractors aren't the only ones who need to secure the proper coverage. HOAs need to assess their risk and confer with their insurer to make sure the sparkling pool their residents enjoy so much isn't setting them up for catastrophic loss. According to Robin Flynn of Brown & Brown, a community association insurer with offices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, "For a swimming pool, your exposure is a liability exposure, and that's generally covered as part of the policy we issue to the association," Flynn says. "When we go to write a policy, the association tells the insurance company that they have a swimming pool, and we ask a lot of questions, such as 'Do you hire a contractor to manage the pool for you?' 'What are your pool hours?,' 'Is there a fence and safety signs around the pool?' and 'Do you have a lifeguard on duty in the pool area?' All those things come into play when there's a pool area because insurance companies are going to want them."
What about extra coverage for peace of mind? "I like to say that a good agent will always recommend an umbrella policy," Flynn continues, "especially when you have a pool in a large community—a million dollars-worth of coverage might not be enough to cover that one terrible claim everyone dreads. We always recommend an umbrella, which will give you that extra limit of liability."
The amount varies, says Flynn, but most insurers don't recommend anything less than $15 million in coverage, unless it's a very small association, in which case $5 million or $10 million might be adequate.
How much a pool actually impacts an association's bottom line depends on the pool and how it's rated. It definitely has impact, but it's not necessarily a driving factor in their premium unless they have a large loss or extensive claims history.
"If you have this type of exposure and your risk management is appropriate," concludes Flynn, "you may have one more chance or one more thing that could result in a loss, but it doesn't significantly raise costs."
Is All the Work Worth It?
Swimming pools involve plumbing, heaters, pumps and other technical equipment that may occasionally need repair. Many pool management companies do not handle extensive repairs themselves, but are responsible for contracting an outside company to do the work. Mechanical problems usually require immediate attention and can be quite costly—running anywhere from $500 to $30,000. In addition to the technical repairs and upkeep, there are other costs involved in maintaining a community pool.
According to Caruso, "Some of the costs involve contracting the pool management company, purchasing chemicals, equipment, resurfacing the pool. Another expense is pool furniture. With furniture you have the costs of maintenance and storage. This can be expensive."
"The board needs to explore the different options when it comes to pool furniture," Caruso continues. "One option is to provide pool tables and have residents bring their own chairs. This does reduce the overall expenditure. Otherwise, the board selects the furniture collectively and incurs the expense."
When comparing the costs of maintaining and operating a pool against the benefits, many HOAs find that having a pool is worth the expense. For prospective residents, amenities such as a pool are very important. A well-designed and thoughtfully located pool enhances the aesthetics of the overall property. It is a great tool when it comes to marketing your property.
"When people are calling to find a new place, one of the most common inquiries is what amenities does the community offer? The swimming pool is a big draw," says Caruso.
From the management perspective, Caruso says, "What I like about having a pool is that during the summer months, most of the residents are around the pool. It is an opportunity for me to make the rounds, speak with the residents firsthand and get a pulse of the community."
Manage and Maintain
While swimming pools may make for happy community residents, they are often a challenge to manage and maintain. But by forming a close working relationship with a pool management company and by taking proactive measures to make sure the pool is safe and healthy, the stressfulness of maintaining a swimming pool can be minimized. Pools are potentially dangerous and require a great deal of upkeep, but if the seriousness of these issues is addressed effectively, managers can provide residents with a high-quality pool environment while minimizing the headache factor for themselves.
Brian Ormsbee is a freelance writer living in New York City.