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"There are many reasons why I use Pentair, and the way it all works so well with the automation is one of them. With the right relays, we can also hook up lights, ceiling fans, and anything else that’s electric so the customer can control everything with a cell phone. Not all automation systems are like that.” —Bob Shehan, owner, Shehan Pools
Bob Shehan, owner of Shehan Pools in Florence, Ky., designs and engineers majestic poolscapes for demanding and discerning clients all over the globe. He builds for a range of budgets, but his best work is the kind few can afford.
A couple of years ago, he fielded a call from a fellow Kentuckian who’d been pitching his pool ideas to area builders, looking for someone special who could build the very ambitious backyard he had in mind. The centerpiece of his vision called for rocks framing a large natural-looking pool to match what he’d seen while staying at high-end resorts, and he was having a hard time finding a reliable partner. Shehan says the customer was losing hope and about to give up.
“He’d been talking to some other builders, including one who said he could do what the customer wanted, but I think after he looked into it a little the guy realized his company hadn’t done anything like it previously,” Shehan says. Essentially, the builder planned on figuring things out once he’d secured the lucrative contract.
“In the pool industry, that’s not something you want to just try to figure out on the fly,” Shehan says. “The rock in the project we completed for him is all man-made, and that’s what we specialize in. The other guy he was talking with wanted to use real rock. Well, that’s a massive amount of weight and height for a structure the way we do it, much less one with actual rocks.”
Shehan assured the client he had the know-how and experience to pull the project off. His portfolio of work for well-heeled homeowners and for commercial clients such as theme parks, water parks, zoos and resorts provided the proof. For added measure, the client made the three-hour drive from his home in southern Kentucky to see some of the local work Bob did in and around the greater Cincinnati area he calls home. He left knowing he had found the right builder for the job.
“That’s where we’re a lot different than most swimming pool companies,” he says. “Because we also have that commercial experience, and we are able to make these big resort-style features available to our residential clients at a more-residential cost.”
In addition to framing the pool and providing space for the grotto and swim-up bar, the meandering slide, a tanning shelf perched high above grade, and a special touch Shehan calls the Fire Majilis (Arabic for “sitting place”), the massive rock wall effectively hides the equipment, which sits on a filter pad at grade that’s four feet wide and about 35 feet long.
“All the equipment is on the back side of the waterfall,” Shehan says. “And there’s a lot of equipment on there!”
Shehan’s choice for this project was Pentair, which he specs on about 90 percent of the company’s jobs.
“We’ve got one recirculating pump, three waterfall pumps ranging from 7.5 to 10 horsepower, and one large 5-horsepower pump for the slide,” he says. “That slide requires us to get a lot of water up to the top of that wall.”
In addition to those five pumps and a small one for the automatic pool cleaner, the pad has two electric Pentair heaters, a Triton sand filter and automation to tie it all together.
“There are many reasons why I use Pentair, and the way it all works so well with the automation is one of them,” Shehan says. “With the right relays, we can also hook up lights, ceiling fans, and anything else that’s electric so the customer can control everything with a cell phone. Not all automation systems are like that.”
Shehan says he’s got the experience to spec the equipment — both commercial and residential — without any outside help, but stresses that it’s important to keep up with industry education.
“We go to the yearly APSP shows to make sure we’re current with the new technology that Pentair and the other manufacturers have,” he says. “Because things are constantly changing — especially lighting and automation, which change by the month!”
The signature feature of the the 100-foot-long, lagoon-style pool is the rockwork that rises a staggering 20 feet above the water level. Look closely and you’ll see the variegated and textured surface that set it apart from the budget work many backyard builders do. It’s something Shehan takes great pride in, and he considers it his company’s calling card.
“All of those different colors and textures have been embossed right onto the rocks to give them that authentic look,” he says.
The rock feature that towers over the scene houses a grotto, which the customer knew he wanted from the get-go, and the swim-up bar located inside, an idea Shehan came up with during the design process.
“We set it up so that you can swim up to it by going through the waterfall,” he says. “All of it was built in conjunction with the pool, and everything to the right and left of the grotto is an addition to the house. The pool ties everything in the property together.”
The pool itself has the naturalistic look the customer was after, varying in width and topping out at about 22 feet wide. The depth averages six feet.
Though the client had a grand vision going in, he couldn’t have envisioned the imposing height of the rock in the finished project. That was one of many areas where Shehan Pools and its principal designer, Bob’s wife, Sarah, exceeded the client’s lofty expectations.
“A good part of what he wanted changed once he realized we could do even more than he was imagining,” Shehan says. “We we met with him to do the original concept, and then we added some things along the way.”
Among the additions was a long slide that snakes from the top of the wall down to water level. Here, the customer had the main idea, but Shehan built upon it and created one of the project’s most distinctive features.
“He wanted a pretty long slide to begin with, and in order to do that we really needed to get some elevation,” Shehan explains. “He was thinking about 10 feet long, and we just added another 40 feet to it.”
All told, the construction took 14 months. Winter intervened, but by then crews were able to work inside the grotto, carving rock for the swim-up bar and they weren’t delayed by cold weather.
When the final pieces were put in place, the client threw a huge party that attracted a big part of the city’s small population. “Half the town was there!” Shehan says. “I get calls to this day because of that job. Just last week he sent me a text telling me he’s sending somebody our way who saw his pool, and now they’re going to call us. He’s probably done that four or five times. I’ve gotten a lot of new customers that way because he is just thrilled to death with the pool.”