The Canvas:Patchy Midwest farmland, silty soil, hidden treacheriesThe Palette: Tans and taupes, country-style deck, lush landscapingThe Masterpiece: A balanced blend of materials, salt-of-the-earth simplicity, a heartland hideaway
The Canvas:Patchy Midwest farmland, silty soil, hidden treacheriesThe Palette: Tans and taupes, country-style deck, lush landscapingThe Masterpiece: A balanced blend of materials, salt-of-the-earth simplicity, a heartland hideaway

Scott Rolenc has to be selective. The short Iowa building season requires him to choose projects carefully. But being picky has its perks. “Taking on fewer projects means that I’m able to build close [customer] relationships,” says the owner of Aqua Palace in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “They really do become friends.”

In fact, Rolenc refers to the owners of this pool in Emerson, Iowa, not with impersonal labels such as “my customers,” but simply as Ann and Dave. It’s that sense of small-town warmth and friendliness that surrounded this aboveground-pool project.

Ann and Dave purchased the property behind theirs so they could build their pool project. A turn-of-the-century house existed on the lot, but rather than demolish it, the couple donated it to Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit group that provides homes for disadvantaged families.

“[The homeowners] hired a moving company to relocate it,” Rolenc recalls. “The house was jacked up on an 18-wheeler and took a two-day drive to its new location, where it was ... refurbished for a new family. So there’s a real tug-at-the-heart story there.”

However, raising the house opened a Pandora’s box. “We had a cistern beneath the basement — sitting in the middle of the project now. We had to tear that out. Then it rained one day, and there was a gusher through this yard,” Rolenc adds. “The water drained from three blocks right through this property.”

The street had no curb systems and there was considerable runoff from the surface water, producing “different soil conditions” than Rolenc expected. So his crew raised the elevation of the lot near the property line with 2 1/2 feet of dirt and redirected the drainage to a storm sewer in the street. Retaining walls and a cantilevered deck were built to combat the silty soil.

With the price tag rising with each new obstacle, Rolenc realized he had to rethink his approach to the project, which was intended to be a steel-walled inground with a diving end. Knowing the owners liked to entertain the neighborhood kids, he suggested they install an aboveground play pool because the even, 4-foot depth left a larger area for activity than a pool with a deep end.

“We joke about it, but [it’s turned into] the Emerson community pool,” he says. “On a normal day, you wouldn’t be surprised to find 35 to 40 kids in their pool. The aboveground pool worked better for them in the end.”

Concrete paver stones were used for the retaining walls to outline the landscaped areas and balance the composite wood deck. The choice of materials also gave the pool its durability, says Rolenc, who is a fan of old-fashioned, hardy craftsmanship. “One thing I always admired about previous generations is how much beauty they got out of stone and how long it lasted,” he says.

“These pools are my legacy because they’re what I’m going to leave behind.”