Waterfront: April 2008

Something Old, Something New

Century-old high-school-turned-condo complex houses pool on roof

Omm 408 AqAfter 42 years in the business, you'd think John Spoelstra would be ready to call it quits. But he keeps taking his work to new heights, specifically, four stories in the air.

Union High School, built in the late 1890s and located two blocks from downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., was recently converted into condominiums after spending 10 years in limbo as the location of a variety of projects. The owner of the building wanted to add a pool and hot tub combo on the roof of the old gym, which was added to the building right before the Great Depression.

"We poured footings and ran steel beams from the ground all the way up through the four stories to hold the pool in place," says Spoelstra, owner of Spoelstra Pool & Patio, the builder of the pool/spa project. "Everything is concrete. The pool and the hot tub have 8-inch concrete floors with a 10-inch concrete wall. It's reinforced 6 inches, 1/2-inch rebar, 6 inches on center.

"We had to walk up four flights of steps because none of the elevators were working," says Spoelstra. "All the heavy forms and steel were picked up by a crane, and all the cement was pumped up with a cement pump."

But, says Spoelstra, getting everything to the roof wasn't the most difficult thing. Leave it to the Midwest weather gods to surprise Spoelstra with a snowstorm in April.

"We poured the floor on a beautiful April day, which was 45 degree and bright sun. And 20 minutes after we started pouring the floor, it snowed 3 inches!"

So how does Union Square handle the Michigan winters? Spoelstra completely drains the pool during the winter months, but keeps the hot tub open year round for those brave enough to sit on the roof in temperatures that can go below zero.

"They had probably 20 people in the hot tub on New Year's Eve," says Spoelstra. "I think all the people splashing and partying drained half the water out of it, but its got an automatic water fill so it keeps filling up."

No Swimming Allowed

Pool a "no-no" at 35,000 feet

Airbus 408 AqWhen AQUA first reported on "The Flying Palace" (Waterfront, Aug. 2007), we noted that an anonymous Middle Eastern potentate had signed on to purchase an Airbus A380, complete with a hot tub and possibly a pool. Turns out, even a prince can't have it all.

"You can forget about the swimming pool," an Airbus executive recently told the Aviation International News. "That's nothing more than a little media hyperbole ... can't happen and won't happen."

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud's flying palace is projected to be completed by 2012 and has been estimated at a minimum of $460 million — $310 million for the plane itself and $150 million for additional interior designing.

Swimming pool or not, the Prince's palace is sure to be nothing short of amazing. The Prince is quoted by the Wall Street Journal as having said, "If I'm going to do something, I do it spectacularly, or I don't do it at all."

Dry Spell

The silver lining on a dark, dry cloud

Crackedearth 408 AqThe pool and spa industry in Georgia has been handed a rough go around this past year after enduring an ongoing historic drought that started in March 2006. Rivers and reservoirs have hit record lows and it is threatening the ability of certain counties to meet local water supply needs. So what does a business do when its livelihood lies in the hands of Mother Nature? Not to sound too cliché, but when it's handed lemons, it makes lemonade.

Across the state, retailers, builders and service professionals have had to find unique ways of keeping pools wet since state- and countywide water-conservation rules have prioritized water use.

While Gov. Sonny Perdue recently eased swimming pool restrictions for the upcoming summer months, "citizens should not see this as a signal the drought is over," he stated in a press release. "The drought remains persistent, and water conservation remains our top priority." But with that said, the drought has brought along some advantages.

"The drought has obviously affected sales," says Linda White, administrative assistant of White's Pools and Spas, Loganville, Ga. "But when the ban was lifted a little bit, we noticed our sales increased." Thanks to White's marketing efforts. In an attempt to keep things afloat — pun intended — White's decided to dig a well and provide customers with the water they would need to fill their pools.

Providing your own water seems to be a trend throughout the state. Lee's Crossing, a west Marietta single-family home community, also drilled a well in its clubhouse parking lot to make sure its pool will be fully functional for summer.

"This area is the lifeblood of this community," Walt Water, a resident and Home Owners' Association director, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This was the only alternative."

With communities and businesses trying to avoid, as much as possible, state and local government regulations, retailers have been seeing unanticipated benefits.

"A number of customers have had water brought in themselves," adds White. "And we've offered them a discount if they do sign with us. So that's one way we've kind of gotten around the ban. [We promote sales] by offering certain discounts and offering water from the well."

Mark Teuton, owner of Cole's Pool Supply in Newnan, Ga., has also managed the drought. Teuton says 50 percent of Cole's income is service-related work. Since the drought has forced pool owners to be more conscientious of any water loss their pool may be experiencing, Teuton says more attention has been paid to things like leaks, equipment repair and water quality, giving Cole's more service calls and ultimately, more revenue. Teuton has also added different algaecides to Cole's product line, expanding his inventory and improving retail offerings.

Everyone seems to be trying to make the best of a difficult situation. And the No. 1 priority in the pool industry is always the customer.

"Normally, when the owner James [White] goes out and speaks with a customer, he'll talk to them about what they should expect when filling their pool and so forth," adds White.

Additional information about the drought can be found at www.wgeorgiadrought.org.

Water Conservation Tips

  • If you cover your pool with a solid cover for the winter, pump any water from the top of the cover back into your pool.
  • Covering your pool when it is not in use can help prevent evaporation.
  • Have your pool checked for leaks, and be sure to keep water balanced to help prevent excess draining, backwash and evaporation.
  • Pool owners can alter roof drainpipes to divert drainage into rain barrels to later be transferred into the pool after sediments have settled. This is not recommended for homes with copper gutters or downspouts.
  • Turn off any water features or slides to conserve water.
Tips provided by Lawrenceville, Ga.-based BioGuard.

Pools Aid In Fighting Fire

Swimming pools save lives, suppress flames

Hhh 408 AqTrapped in a major fire consuming their home, their neighborhood and much of the San Pasqual Valley, Roger and Dena Bielasz had one shot at survival — immersing themselves in their pool.

It was a final act of self-preservation in a terrifying night that destroyed their home and killed their neighbors, John Bain and Victoria Fox.

Roger Bielasz told Fox earlier that day, "Remember, if you get in trouble down there, remember we have the pool."

Around 1 a.m., the inferno suddenly burst forth, sparked by a downed power line.

Roger and Dena Bielasz rushed to their own garage hoping to escape by car, only to find their automatic garage door frozen from the power outage. When smoke in the garage became unbearable, the couple fled to their backyard.

"When we jumped into the pool," says Bielasz, "both Dena and I said, 'I hope John and Vicky got out because they're not here.'"

The couple waited, shivering, expecting their neighbors to appear. Flaming brands from the blaze crashed down into the pool, forcing the couple to the deep end.

It's another example of the hidden value backyard swimming pools offered in the fight against the California wildfires. Not only does a swimming pool offer refuge for individuals who cannot flee, firefighting crews can directly access it for flame suppression.

During the fires, firefighting helicopters also dropped down over pools, lowered a hose, and with a powerful vacuum, sucked up its entire capacity of fire-quenching water. Then the choppers raced off to hotspots and sprayed the pool water on the fires. Instead of having to fly many miles to more traditional source of water to fight the fire, choppers using this method could access water very close to the fire.

Forget Lassie

Safety Turtle saves canine on Christmas Day

Sheeba 408 AqBob Lyons has seen a lot of success since launching the Safety Turtle; namely, gaining national news coverage during the summer months about how wonderful the device can be for families with kids and pools.

So it was no surprise when Lyons opened an e-mail from another appreciative Turtle user. Only this time, it wasn't from the protective parent of a child, it was from the protective parent of Sheeba, a 17-year-old Pomeranian who recently had cataract surgery to improve her vision.

When the Pompano Beach, Fla., couple was given the Safety Turtle on Christmas Day by their daughter, they immediately placed the collars around their dogs' necks and went about celebrating the holiday.

"It was around 8 p.m. (two hours after installing the turtles)," the owner writes in an e-mail to Lyons. "All of a sudden, the Safety Turtle sounded and everyone headed for the backyard where we have a pool and a canal. Lo and behold, our poor little Sheeba was struggling to barely stay afloat. Our daughter jumped in and saved our little Sheeba from a certain death. All I know is that had we not received the Safety Turtle that night and had I not installed the Turtles on them right away, Sheeba would not be with us today."

Lyons says he's pleased Safety Turtle averted another family tragedy. "We hear of life-savings every year, but this is the first on Christmas Day."

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