A proposed bill intends to safeguard Florida’s commercial pool builders from making costly mistakes.
Florida House Bill 593 would require a contractor to first apply for an operating permit from a county Department of Health before applying for a building permit.
Giving health officials first crack at reviewing plans is designed to limit the risk of being denied an operating permit after construction of a facility is complete. This has been an all-too-frequent occurrence in recent years.
“A number of these pools being constructed aren’t right,” said Don Ball, owner of The Pool Works of Florida, a certified commercial pool builder in Palm Harbor.
That’s an unintended consequence of HB 1263. Signed into law in 2012 as a cost-cutting measure, the regulation removed overlap between health and building departments. Where there were two agencies reviewing building plans, now there is only one: Municipal building departments have full oversight of commercial pool construction, assuming a role that had long been performed by health officials.
The law, however, didn’t take health departments entirely out of the equation. They still have final say on whether or not a facility is fit for public use.
And that’s where contractors have been getting into trouble.
Because building officials aren’t as well versed in the intricacies of safe swimming pools, they’ve been rubber-stamping problematic projects. For example, a pool with a step wider than 4 feet wouldn’t pass muster with a county health department because that step essentially doubles as a tanning shelf, and those aren’t legal in Florida. Other mistakes include shallow ends being too shallow (anything less than 3 feet is too dangerous to jump into); and installing large logos or graphics on the pool floor. Health officials take issue with the latter because floor art trains the eye to ignore anything under the surface — an unconscious body, for instance.
“The biggest problem was [that] there were pools getting building permits, being built and then the health department was coming in on the end, finding something [wrong] and not issuing an operating permit,” said Alex Fletcher, president of the United Pool & Spa Association in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.
Contractors finding themselves in these situations have few options: Make an appeal or make costly repairs. “Either way, it was very expensive, time consuming and kept pools from being opened on time,” Fletcher added.
UPSA, which consists of 60-plus commercial pool builders, introduced the bill with the support of the Florida Swimming Pool Association. Sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral), HB 593 would be a course correction of sorts because it would give health officials a chance to spot red flags in blueprints before builders break ground.
There will be no added costs because a contractor has always had to get an operating permit at some point. And it’s not adding more government oversight; it’s only reversing the process through which builders get their projects approved, Fletcher said.
If approved, HB 593 could go into effect in July.