Clean Water and Clean Air in Modern Aquatics Facilities

In 2014, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) commissioned Dr. Scott Forrester to analyze and interpret the responses of more than 33,500 students who participated in the NIRSA/NASPA Consortium Nationwide Survey. His expansive review of that data set, highlighted in The Benefits of Campus Recreation report, reveals that 68 percent of students surveyed reported that campus recreation facilities influenced their decision as to which institution they would attend.

The report also shows that engaging in recreational activities during these formative years positively influences students’ attitudes toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Forrester’s findings affirm that an overwhelming majority of students attribute health and wellness benefits to their participation in campus recreation facilities, programs, or services. In fact, nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated they participated three times per week or more, and nearly 80 percent indicated they participated at least one time per week. The findings are revealing, serving as an apt reminder of the impact that campus recreation facilities have on student recruitment and retention.

Across the country, private institutions of higher education have taken the findings to heart and are investing significant time and resources in these facilities not only to create more opportunities for students’ health and wellness but to foster an appealing campus culture that may translate to campus-wide economic stability and growth.

Aquatic facilities are an essential component of campus recreation, serving as ideal spaces for the recruitment of students and student-athletes. The versatility of aquatic facilities is partly what makes them so appealing. Students can relax but also exercise with intent, and they can do so individually or in groups. These spaces may serve freshmen orientations, Greek life, collegiate sports, and as a general fitness center for all students. In past decades, university aquatic facilities were designed primarily for student-athletes who exercised and trained vigorously—but modern facilities are now used by a diverse array of students, in addition to faculty and staff. Accordingly, the amenities offered should meet the needs of all rather than a select few. This is reflected in one of the newer trends in modern aquatics programming, which is to design pools with deeper water for better, safer performance in competitive programs, and to provide shallower (almost beach-like entry) water to support recreation programs. Many aquatic facilities now incorporate dozens of water features and pool configurations. These may include a lazy river, beach entry, spray features, bubble benches, lounging ledges, vortexes, rain rings, rope swings, climbing walls, zip lines, movie screens, waterfalls, a band platform, water-fountain features, and even seating areas with Wi-Fi connections and charging stations for those who want to study or collaborate poolside.

Turnover Rates of Different Pool Types

It is not unusual for a modern aquatics facility to offer four different pool types, each with varying water depths and temperatures. Pool types usually include a swimming pool, an adaptive learning pool, a multi-purpose pool, and a spa. Careful consideration of turnover rates is a must if one is to keep aquatic facilities functional, attractive, and clean. Preventative maintenance to accommodate turnover rates is a challenge, however, due in part to the high demand of the facilities. Consider, too, that more bodies in the water translates to scarcer opportunities to perform preventative maintenance that addresses residue from body oils, sunscreen, and other forms of human debris. A swimming pool which offers water depths of three to 13 feet or deeper and water temperature of 78 to 84 degrees F is required by most states to have water recirculated within six hours or less. But with heavier occupancies, this requirement may prove insufficient; it isn’t unusual to see a two- to four-hour turnover rate for a modern recreation pool. A similar challenge applies to adaptive learning pools, multi-purpose pools, and spas. An adaptive learning pool offers water depths of two to eight feet and water temperatures of 82 to 90 degrees F, with a two- to four-hour turnover rate. A multi-purpose pool has a two- to four-hour turnover rate as well, and it has depths up to five feet or greater. Finally, a spa has water depths between three and six feet, a significantly higher temperature rate of 100 to 104 degrees F, and a significantly lower turnover rate of 20 to 30 minutes.

Preventative Maintenance and Innovative Technologies

Smart pool monitoring systems are among the most significant innovations in preventative maintenance. These systems use sensors and other advanced technologies to monitor different aspects of pool water quality, such as pH levels, chlorine levels, and water temperature. All can be monitored from a smartphone for convenience. The monitoring systems notify pool operators if an issue with water quality occurs, allowing them to take prompt action. Some smart pool monitoring systems can by synced with other smart devices, enabling operators to control pool settings remotely. The use of automated pool cleaners is another useful method in preventative maintenance. Recent advances in technology have made automated pool cleaners more efficient and effective. Robotic pool cleaners, for example, are small, wheeled machines that use advanced algorithms to navigate the pool and clean it. They are equipped with an electric motor that creates suction to remove dirt and debris, placing them in a catchment area. Robotic pool cleaners also crawl up and down the pool walls. The technology uses low voltage motors, making them reliable when cleaning the pool for an extended period of time. Some models also include built-in sensors that detect the shape and size of the pool, which allows the cleaner to optimize its cleaning patterns.

Liquid pool chemicals pose a challenge in terms of gauging how much to apply. Chemical dosing systems are another innovation that make preventative maintenance more efficient and reliable. These systems automatically dispense the precise amount of chemicals needed, those such as chlorine and pH adjusters. To do so ensures that the water remains balanced and free of harmful contaminants without having to monitor and adjust them on a regular basis. Ultraviolet (UV-C) water treatment, another preventative maintenance technology, uses ultraviolet light to disinfect pool water. The technology kills bacteria and other harmful pathogens, making it an ideal swimming pool acid alternative. Moreover, UV-C water treatment reduces the amount of chlorine needed in the pool, which benefits those sensitive to chlorine or who prefer a more natural approach to pool care. Saltwater chlorinators are yet another preventative maintenance option. Instead of using traditional chlorine tablets or liquid, saltwater chlorinators generate chlorine from salt to be added to pool water, resulting in a more natural and gentle method of pool disinfection. Saltwater chlorination also reduces the need for frequent manual cleaning by preventing the buildup of algae and other contaminants.

A final example of preventative maintenance technology is an organic carbon dioxide (CO2) system. This water system is designed to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to treat pool water and is considered a more ecofriendly swimming pool acid alternative. In an organic CO2 system, small amounts of carbon dioxide gas are injected into the pool water. This produces a natural acid that regulates pH levels for a safer and more comfortable swimming environment. The system is fully automated, and an advanced control panel regulates the flow of CO2 gas into the water, ensuring the stability of the water’s pH levels.

Technology has made pool cleaning and maintenance far easier, more convenient, and modernized. Pool operators now have access to a range of innovative solutions and can enjoy crystal-clear, sanitary swimming environments while also reducing the time and effort required to maintain campus-based swimming pools.

Managing Air Quality in Aquatic Facilities

When one notices a “pool smell,” it’s commonly mistaken for chlorine. It is actually a symptom of a larger air-quality issue in indoor pools. Pool indoor air quality (IAQ) is driven by off gassing disinfection byproducts such as chloramines and chloroform, which form when the pool disinfects dirt and organics in the water. Indeed, the air quality can be impacted by both the number of occupants as well as the pool recirculation system. Occupancy load wastes build up in the water, and chemical reactions occur. These reactions allow waste products to be broken down, which in turn release gases into natatorium air. Inadequate turnover rates and chemical feed systems lead to poor air quality and a corrosive environment for the building and its equipment.

Improving air quality is a process-oriented endeavor, one that includes the use of preventative maintenance technologies that address pool water quality, increased air turnover rates, and healthier air distribution. One option for addressing air quality is to introduce more outside air to dilute the pollution indoors. Many pool dehumidifiers include a function called “purge,” which allows for large amounts of outside air to be brought in and then exhausted out. This may not prove to be an entirely effective solution, however—depending on how the system is designed, corrosive air can recirculate too. Pollution is diluted but not entirely removed.

A more effective solution is to address air pollution at its source, thereby eliminating the need for excess outside air. Source-capture ventilation, in which the HVAC system recirculates nothing but clean air, can effectively relieve the room of bad air. All air being supplied is chloramine free, and the “chloramine bubble” above the pool is disrupted. This reduces the risk of stratification problems indoors, just as it reduces the risk of chloramine recirculation and corrosion to the HVAC system.

As university campuses continue to up their game when it comes to aquatic facilities—accommodating more people than ever before and creating a wide variety of ways for students to take advantage of new, modern pool features—proper maintenance to ensure clean water and clean air are essential. At the same time, the industry has also kept pace with new technology and protocols that make it easier for schools to maintain safe and healthy aquatic facilities—a win-win for students and maintenance crews alike.

About the Author
David Vinson, PUPN staff writer, has a PhD in English with specializations in transatlantic literature and cultural studies. He is a committed scholar, teacher, husband, and dad. If you ever meet David, avoid the subject of soccer. His fandom borders on the truly obnoxious.