Massachusetts builder creates fiberglass therapy pool for injured soldiers

Fiber Military0809Some dealers might think twice about giving away their time and labor, but not Clarence Kaye. Inspired by San Juan Products' charitable efforts in 2005 and 2007, when the manufacturer donated therapy pools to injured U.S. veterans and then installed them for free, Kaye, the owner of Pioneer Valley Fiberglass Pools & Spas in Holyoke, Mass., decided he wanted to do something similar in his neck of the woods.

Kaye began looking for a suitable project a couple years ago and found the Northeast Veteran Training Rehabilitation Center, which was still in the development stage.

Tara O'Connor, CFO of Veteran Homestead, was impressed that Kaye sought the organization out. "We spend so much time calling and asking for donations, so for him to call us up and offer to help was really nice."

The site of the new center was in doubt until, fortunately, Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass., pitched in with 10 acres of land, and plans progressed. The complex, which will have cottages for injured veterans and their families, is slated to open in October.

With a lot of help from other pools builders and San Juan's Tom McCarthy, Kaye installed the center's donated San Juan pool on April 8. "It took a lot of coordination, a lot of preparation and a lot of bodies," says Kaye. "After the shell was set in the hole, we had a team of guys doing the swim current system, a team of guys doing the plumbing, a team of guys digging the trenches to the equipment location and team of guys washing sand under the pool."

Aqua Fiberglass of Douglas, Mass., had stored the pool for a few months and then delivered it to the site for free. According to Kaye, Hayward Pool Products donated the equipment, including remote-controlled automation, and Fast Lane offered a swim current system at a reduced cost.

"What I think is really great about this pool," adds Kaye, "is that it will potentially help generations to come, and that's what's most important. It will serve so many people who have served our country."


Kaye, who works for a public utility in addition to running Pioneer Valley, got into the pool business in 2000 when a neighbor was thinking of getting a pool. "They said to me, 'You've got kind of an engineering background, why don't you check it out?' So I looked into fiberglass and the more I looked, the more I thought, 'Why aren't people using this? This is the ideal vessel to put water in. Why is it not happening up here in the Northeast as much as liners are?' The truth of the matter is it's primarily because transportation up into the Northeast is a very difficult thing."

Load limitations and restrictions in Massachusetts and Connecticut and other New England states are the sticking point, adds Kaye. "They just don't allow us the kind of flexibility that some of the Southern states do. You can carry 16-foot-wide pools stacked together like cups all the way up the East Coast until you get to Jersey, and then suddenly you've got problems. We've been working with legislators here in Massachusetts to allow us to truck in stacked pools because in the end, the consumer pays less because we pass the savings along to them. But the truth is, freight for me right now for a single pool from Florida to here is $7,500."

Transportation issues did not stop Kaye from launching Pioneer Valley, but he certainly takes them into account in the process of installing the pools. "We don't excavate until the pool arrives because oftentimes there can be delays in getting the pool. So if you dig the hole on Tuesday expecting the pool on Wednesday, and the pool gets held up somewhere because they can't cross a bridge, well, now you've got a liability - an open hole - in the customer's backyard. And if it rains, it's going to wash the hole in, and it's going to you set back. You'll have to groom the hole again."

When it is time to excavate, Kaye believes it's critical that the excavation performed matches the profile of the pool. "Because if you over-dig, then you're going to essentially remove a lot of virgin soil below the pool. And if that happens, you're going to have to bring in sand and really compact it to make sure that several years down the road you don't have some sort of settling. We only excavate about 4 inches deeper than the profile of the pool because we want that pool sitting pretty much on virgin soil. Plus, if you don't over-excavate, the amount of work you have to do to wash sand under the pool to fill any voids is minimized."

Next Few Steps

While his excavators dig, carefully avoiding unnecessary damage to the property, Kaye usually starts the plumbing process by cutting some holes and putting in fittings. "Once they're done digging the hole, the pool can then be picked up as a unit and put in. We've also plumbed the pool when it's in the hole, so either way works."

To aid the process of setting the pool in the hole properly, Pioneer Valley marks the breakpoints on the pool and on the sand bed with orange fluorescent paint. "So that when we begin to lower that pool into the hole, we can line up those marks. That way we know we're where we need to be," says Kaye. "Otherwise, believe it or not, when you're in the hole, everything kind of looks alike, and if you're looking at the bottom of the pool and trying to find a particular spot, it can be really disorienting."

Once the pool is level all the way around, the next step is to fill it and backfill at the same time. "We typically use sand to backfill," says Kaye. "That's been the tried-and-true method for years, but there are more and more pools that have different shapes and steps and seating areas and places that are almost impossible to get sand into, so on those types of pools we'll use flowable fill, a light-strength concrete product. We still use sand for the majority, but we'll flood those harder-to-reach areas with flowable fill to make sure we reach all of those nooks and crannies that you just can't get sand to wash into.

"Some guys use flowable fill for the whole project, and either way works," adds Kaye, "but the problem I have with the flowable fill is if something goes wrong down the line and you have to get under that pool again, you've got trouble. Because even though flowable fill is excavatable, meaning you can break it with a shovel, I've often said to people, 'You go break it with a shovel.'

"It's quite hard, though it does surround the pool and cradle the pool very well. But it's also tricky because if you have flowable fill going around the pool and you're not filling the pool with water fast enough, you can actually cause the pool to float like a boat. So I just like sand because you can go fairly quickly, but yet know that if something went wrong, the worst case scenario is you dig some sand out and redo things."

Next, Pioneer Valley pours the pool's concrete collar and lays and compacts the base material for the deck. "Then we'll put the wire mesh down, we'll bond to that electrically and then usually tell the customers they want to wait a week to let the ground compact naturally before putting in the deck."

Oftentimes, before the pool has arrived, Kaye pre-pipes the equipment at his shop. "Then I'll break it all down again because we use a lot of unions. We bring it out a couple days ahead of time to the site and set it out on its pad. Then we wire it up and get it ready to go with everything marked so when the pool is being installed, that equipment is essentially already plumbed and wired. Now my guys who are excavating for me can just dig a trench over there, run the lines and we'll plug them right in. That saves quite a bit of time."

Pioneer Valley often places the equipment pad a foot or two above the pool, but sometimes it ends up being slightly below the pool. "It's really driven by the customer's needs and wants," says Kaye. "I had one customer say, 'I want my equipment in my basement,' and I said, 'Just keep in mind, if you ever have a pipe fracture, that pool is coming in here.' But he said, 'I don't care, that's what I want.'"

What's Popular

Remote-controlled automation and salt sanitization systems, both of which are on the new pool at the Northeast Veteran Training Rehabilitation Center, are two features Kaye says he has been including in most of the pools he sells.

"We sell the Aqua Logic hand-held remote control to almost every customer now, and we're able to justify the upsell because even if they spend a little more on the remote control, they may be looking at $800 in electrical labor to internally wire switches to locations in their house, and the switch might not even be where they want it anyway. With the remote, they can run the pool from anywhere in the house. When you show people value, the money doesn't hurt so bad."

Pioneer Valley has also been installing a lot of salt sanitization systems. Kaye believes those have been so popular because they save customers some money since they don't have to buy chlorine, but mostly he attributes their popularity to the systems' softness on the skin. He believes the service men and women who use the center will enjoy it.

Despite the huge effort it took from a variety of sources, Kaye has been inspired by a joint project that embodies the appreciation felt for the sacrifices made in the name of our country.

"We often don't think about what's going on elsewhere, but these men and women have come back with all kinds of injuries that are just awful. That's why it's so important this is happening."

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