Last April, the state of Florida moved the overseeing of commercial pool construction from county departments of health to local building departments, and officials there had little time to learn the ins and outs of their new responsibilities.
To help bridge the knowledge gap, the Florida Swimming Pool Assn.’s Broward and Palm Beach county chapters brought building and health officials together with pool contractors at a symposium Nov. 27 in Deerfield Beach.
“We hoped to get 15 or 20 people to show up and we had nearly 100 in the room. We kept it mostly to health and building department people, and wanted to create a synergy between the departments,” said Brian Kelly, FSPA Broward chapter president and owner of Shamrock Pools near Fort Lauderdale.
When Florida House Bill 1263 took effect in April, county health departments had specialists to deal with public pool building issues. Building departments in cities and unincorporated areas around Florida found themselves having to learn quickly what their new responsibilities were and how to address them.
The transition last spring was rocky for some builders, including Kelly. “We’d started a major pool reconstruction project for a retirement community around April 10, two weeks before the bill was signed,” he said. “Our plans had been approved through the department of health. A short time later, there was a structural problem with the spa and I called the department of health and they said they didn’t review those plans anymore. So I called the building department, which referred me to the department of health. We were able to work through it with both departments; we were able to piggyback the change onto the original health department plans.”
The new regulation doesn’t take the departments of health entirely out of the picture for public pools. “The biggest problem is that the building department can OK a set of plans, but the department of health might deny an operating permit,” said Dave Villandry, incoming FSPA Palm Beach chapter president and director of business development at Commercial Energy Specialists in Jupiter, Fla.
Building department officials at the symposium appreciated the opportunity to learn more about their new responsibilities.
“I think one of the things that came out of the symposium to put a little more responsibility back on architects, designers and pool contractors to make sure what’s submitted meets all the requirements,” said Ted Fowler, building official for suburban Cooper City. “They are the experts. We look at the plans and make sure the codes are being met. But it’s so much nicer when the information is there on the plans.”
A common theme from building department officials was that they are now dealing with a new body of information, such as chlorination standards and what exactly constitutes a public pool in the state. They also have a better understanding of whom to call in county health departments if they have questions about how to proceed with a project. These are the kind of things FSPA had in mind when putting together the event.
“We found that there’s a huge need for training of building department officials. They were the ones who said that,” Villandry said.
The state department of health responded to the change by putting many training materials and other resources online for building departments to use as they take on their new responsibilities, but the municipalities are also seeking hands-on assistance. “We had a couple good suggestions at the meeting and we’re considering how we might best assist them,” said Bob Vincent, an environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee, who attended the event. “Building inspectors want us to attempt to accompany them during their inspections so we can show them how to do it in the field.”
FSPA officials are hoping to put on more of these events around the state. Other proposals include giving seminars at continuing education events for building officials, who are required to take a certain number of classes to maintain their standing. Those plans are good news for officials such as Bob Hannon, deputy building officer of Coral Springs.
“There is more responsibility for the plan examiners and the inspectors to verify more items than we did before,” he said. “If they had another symposium, I’d definitely attend.”