IPSSA has entered a new era.

The Independent Pool & Spa Service Association voted April 1 to allow professionals from outside the trade group’s existing territories to join.

That’s a major milestone for an organization that has, since its inception in the 1960s, kept membership exclusive to those within proximity of its dozens of chapters in major markets throughout the Sunbelt.

Now IPSSA will broaden its base to include so-called affiliate members. These professionals operate in regions where the association currently doesn’t have a presence. They won’t receive all the benefits that full-fledged constituents currently enjoy, such as life- and accidental medical insurance and sick-route coverage. But they will have access to IPSSA’s liability insurance, educational programs and marketing support, among other perks, said the association’s recently installed president, Marc Cannon.

Changes in IPSSA’s insurance provider has made this development possible. Last year, Arrow Insurance, which has covered members since 1988, joined HUB International, one of the world’s largest brokerages. This allows Arrow to cover individuals in all 50 states.

“It’s something we’re extremely excited about,” said Cannon, owner/president of Rescue H20 Pool Service and Repair in Chandler, Ariz.

While, it’s unknown where the first affiliate members will come from, Cannon said, several service professionals in Illinois — particularly the Chicago metro area — have expressed interest.

Officials expect the change to remove an obstacle that has precluded many technicians from joining IPSSA in the past: It takes 10 service professionals to form a chapter, but many rural areas don’t have a large enough industry to meet that requirement. That’s why markets such as the Florida Panhandle might be ripe for affiliate members.

“It’s a huge deal because now it takes the handcuffs off IPSSA to grow,” said Todd Starner, president of the Manasota Chapter in Florida.

While members were largely in favor of the change, some believed that opening the organization to outsiders might compromise the spirit of the group. The benefits of being a member go beyond insurance, said Peter Haverlation, who’s been involved with IPSSA since the early years. There’s a certain camaraderie and fellowship that can only happen at the chapter level.

“When you start to spread out like that, you lose some of that intimacy,” said Haverlation, owner of Peter’s Pool Service and a member of the San Fernando Valley Chapter in suburban Los Angeles.

But officials hope untapped regions will supply enough affiliates that eventually could form chapters and become full members. In theory, there could be an IPSSA chapter in, say, Nashville, Tenn.

To preserve the integrity of IPSSA’s traditional structure, affiliates must live at least a certain mile radius away from an existing chapter. (The exact distance has not been determined.) In other words, you can’t become an affiliate just because you don’t want to participate in chapter activities and sick route coverage.

“We don’t want to take anything away from our existing membership,” Cannon said.