What It Takes To Open CA’s Pools For The Summer

May 7, 2021

Now that we’re heading into mid-May, that “summer feeling” is in the air. With just weeks until CA’s pools open, the Aquatics team is hard at work prepping each facility for their big debuts.

So, what exactly does it take to open 15 neighborhood pools? Since the pools have been idle since September 2019, there’s even more of a big lift than usual — but after the rough year we had, there’s also more excitement (and appreciation) than ever.

Matthew Helfrich, CA Aquatics Assistant Director of Maintenance, gave us a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work underway…


Not Just “Mucking” About

Before the cleaning can begin, each need pool needs to be drained. With an average of 150,000 gallons of water per pool, Helfrich explains that it’s not exactly a “pull a plug and come back” situation. It’s a days-long process that can vary depending on the pool’s surroundings. While some locations are relatively sparse, others are surrounded by trees, which means some serious debris can accumulate. The debris can sometimes fill hundreds of bags! Helfrich explains that this part of the process is called “mucking” the pools.

Once the pools are empty, it’s time for deep cleaning. CA has two different kinds of pools: plaster and painted. Plaster is what waterproofs the pool, and those require an acid finish to lift stains. The painted pools are cleaned and then re-painted with a fresh coat. After the pool cures for about three to five days, it’s time to refill it with clean water.

Plaster application process at Phelps Luck Pool

The finished product!

This is when the real hands-on maintenance begins. The Aquatics team uses large vacuums to ensure that the pools stay spick and span. Every other day, the team is out in the field checking the water pressure and water levels, and vacuuming the pools.

“After all the cleaning, we don’t want anything to sit on the bottom of the pool and stain it,” explains Helfrich. “We’re laser-focused on keeping the water clear.”



Beyond Pools

The work isn’t complete once the pools are in the clear. Every year, each facility has to pass a 150-point inspection from the Howard County Health Department. This comprehensive inspection includes checking the status of gauges, meters, hot water, pool lights, ADA lifts, fencing and so much more.

Training staff is also a huge component of prepping for opening weekend. This year, there are over 250 new lifeguards who all require more than 24 hours of training. Between issuing uniforms, creating schedules and more, onboarding team members is a fairly large undertaking.

Then, of course, there’s new measures unique to COVID-19 safety to consider.

“Our construction crews have been fabricating sneeze guards to place between CA team members and guests checking in. These have to be weatherproof and able to withstand wind and rain,” says Helfrich. “We’re also working to get space for the food trucks to set up for the first year ever. This involves re-marking the parking lots and installing new signage.”  

While the weeks leading up to Memorial Day are busy, Helfrich says that seeing the smiles and laughter at the pools make all the hard work well-worth it.

One of the cool things about Columbia is that there’s a pool in every neighborhood. I live and work here, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my neighbors at the pool this summer,” says Helfrich. “It’s been a long time coming and I hope everyone appreciates the hard work and attention to detail CA is putting in to get everything ready. It’s going to be an awesome summer!” 


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