For Columbia Association Aquatics employee Ken Zachmann, springtime means one thing: time to get to work. "Sometimes, over the winter, you put a pool to sleep perfect but it wakes up a little disturbed," said Zachmann, who has spent the last 44 years working for CA Aquatics in some form or another.
The arduous task of preparing CA's 23 outdoor pools for summer begins in March and isn't complete until the first cannonball of the season, which this year will come on Saturday, May 25.
"It's a process," said Zachmann, at the Hopewell Park Pool in Oakland Mills earlier this week.
However, Zachmann, who supervises the 12 pools on Columbia's east side, said working seven days a week from the end of March to Memorial Day is all worth it once he sees a pool full of smiling faces.
"I think a lot of CA employees feel our mission is to engage our people and make their day better," said Zachmann, a retired chemistry teacher who spent 35 years at Hammond High School before retiring in 2012. "That's the beauty of it."
And although Zachmann has countless stories from past years at CA pools, it's the future of CA's aquatics programming he's more excited to discuss.
"How can we get people to use the pool more often in the future? I'd like to have a pool where you can go to and do aerobics on the land, and you can do the water training and be with your family at the same time," said Zachmann.
This year, at Steven's Forest Pool, Zachmann said CA is looking to do just that by hosting land classes during the summer.
"You structure your pools so that families can spend more time together," said Zachmann. "The hardest thing in life to deal with is the competing venues for your time. ... If you can find a way to multi-task, it's a win-win, and that's where aquatics comes in. To recreate and exercise at the same time. Not everyone likes to run 20 miles."
The issue is one that has been in front of the CA board in recent years, ultimately culminating in an Aquatics Master Plan.
According to CA's Director of Sport and Fitness Bob Bellamy, the purpose of the plan was to "examine changes that should be made to aquatics programs and facilities in order to accommodate the future needs of the community."
As part of the plan, CA hired a consultant to conduct a pair of feasibility studies looking into the future of Splashdown, the aging water slide facility in Wilde Lake, and the possibility of enclosing one of CA's outdoor pools.
In January, the consultants recommended CA build a new indoor pool and presented options for replacing Splashdown, which does not meet current building code requirements.
While CA is the largest provider of aquatics programming in Howard County, the county's private pools, such as Atholton Swim Club, are preparing for the summer season as well.
Atholton, located on Seneca Drive in Columbia, will open on Saturday to its approximately 120 members, according to club membership coordinator Caryn Daniel.
"We are very excited to start the season," said Daniel.
While excitement at the club is mounting in anticipation of Saturday's noon opening, which will be supplemented by an open house, club members were celebrating earlier this month when they discovered they were one of three private pools awarded more than $10,000 in grant money from the Howard County government.
The grant program was put in place by County Executive Ken Ulman after a bill aimed at giving tax breaks to local pools introduced by County Council member Courtney Watson, of Ellicott City, was defeated in the summer of 2011, according to Watson.
"Private swim clubs built before 1975 in Howard County bear a larger tax burden, yet serve an important need for swimming pools not provided by Howard County government," Watson wrote in an email announcing the grant awards earlier this month.
Daniel agrees that because of the tax code and other factors, the private pools are at a slight disadvantage.
"We are run by a group of volunteers. We all take our time to keep the pool going," said Daniel. "It isn't quite a level playing field, but they are trying to help us out."
According to Watson, Atholton received a $20,000 grant, Hammond a $15,800 grant, and North St. John's a $10,000 grant. The funds will be used to assist pools with ADA compliance and other capital needs.