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A variety of issues surrounding the VGB Act are causing concern for industry professionals across Florida.

First, there’s the question of exactly who is appropriately licensed to bring pools into compliance. Florida’s Construction Industry Licensing Board adheres to state statutes, but the language therein leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

“The statute could have been written clearer,” said Jennifer Hatfield, director of government and public affairs at the Florida Swimming Pool Association. “We’re going to work with [United Pool & Spa Association] to formulate a deck statement request to send to the CILB to get them to make a determination.”

The issue is particularly sensitive given the economic climate, she added. In Florida, where the market for new pools has been decimated, the opportunity to do VGB work has become a vital part of business.

FSPA will recommend that any modification to the piping or pool shell, such as digging a deeper sump, should be done by someone with a commercial building license.

“Unless it’s a simple cover replacement, all the rest of the work should be done by [the holder of a] commercial pool contractor license,” Hatfield said.

It is hoped that the suggested clarification will be ready to appear on the CILB’s agenda by October, she added.

The only gray area appears to be frame replacement on covers. While swapping “like for like” equipment can be performed under a service license, replacing frames can involve breaking up concrete and replastering — again, work designated for a commercial builder’s license.

Moreover, frame replacements botched by inexperienced and unlicensed technicians pose a much greater threat of entrapment.

“If that frame is not secured correctly, you’ve gone out and done something that’s become a larger hazard,” said Jeff Clarkson, president of UPSA in Tampa, Fla.

Some of the improperly licensed work may stem from service companies that encounter unanticipated modifications under the drain cover.

“It’s a slippery slope once they get started,” said Ken Gregory, who heads the commercial division of Holland Pools and Spas, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “It’s kind of like eating peanuts — it’s hard to get them to stop.”

Yet with close to 37,000 public pools in the state, some have questioned the availability of labor if all VGB-related work is relegated to a niche sector.

“You have tons of work out there that needs to get done by somebody,” said James Hawkins, who owns Pool Service America in North Miami Beach, Fla. “If they try to narrow it down too tight, there’s no way in heck it will all get done.”

As facilities procrastinate on dipping into already sapped budgets, the problem could be exacerbated when the Florida Department of Health ramps up enforcement later this year.

This is the root of a thorny dilemma for operators. In addition to VGB requirements, the state is mandating re-rated covers for a slower water velocity.

But, more importantly, new Florida Department of Health guidelines state that over the next four years every commercial pool and spa will need to utilize a gravity feed system. That directive begins in May 2010, when all wading pools must retrofit to feature that design.

“I’m already receiving calls from people concerned about the money it’s going to cost,” Hatfield said.

Between surge tank installation, hydraulic redesign and engineer verification, these installations can quickly rise north of $20,000, which is considerably outside many operators’ budgets.

“These are very old pools in a lot of cases and the extensive renovation in order to go to gravity-feed is really not feasible,” Gregory said. “There’s a certain percentage of people who are just filling in the pools.”

Though the vast majority of commercial pools in Florida already use gravity-feed systems, there are still close to 6,000 vessels that will require a retrofit between now and 2013, according to the state health department.

Furthermore, the dearth of qualified engineers and licensed builders could drive prices even higher.


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