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May 2011
Immersed in Innovation
By Carol Gifford

     From pool development, to pool part manufacturing and installation, to innovative game changing technologies and products, Paddock is a leader in the commercial swimming pool industry. If you swim in commercial pools, chances are pretty good that the pool was designed by or includes components made by Paddock Pool Equipment Company, Inc.

     Paddock Pool Equipment Company, Inc. is immersed in innovation. CEO Don Baker swims in swimming pool problems all day, every day. He has a knack for solving problems and every so often comes up for air with a particularly brilliant solution…like the company’s latest invention, the Paddock Evacuator Chloramine Evacuation System. If you spend any time at an indoor pool, experiencing the discomfort of burning eyes and smelly pool air, you’ll find the Evacuator a breath of fresh air.

 

A Saturated History

     Swimming Pools…movie stars…that’s how Paddock got started back in the early 1920s, building America’s first backyard pools on the estates of wealthy Southern Californians. Back then, a private pool had to be built with formed concrete using heavy machinery—an exorbitantly priced luxury available only to the top echelons of society. But the idea caught on, and in a short time everybody wanted one. Paddock took the concept to the next level, and the modern pool industry was born.

     In the 1930s, Paddock built the first 50-meter monolithic pool using pneumatically applied concrete (gunite) at the Biltmore in Santa Barbara. Soon, gunite was the method of choice for pool construction, enabling a new generation of specialized contractors to build affordable residential pools. By the 1940s, Paddock had established the first network of franchised dealers to build its standard designs around the country.

     Paddock transitioned from residential to commercial swimming pool design and construction in the 1960s when Bill Baker, Don Baker’s father, purchased the company out of bankruptcy and moved it from the West Coast to Albany, New York. Paddock was reorganized and shifted its focus to commercial equipment exclusively.

     The Equipment Company took center stage, introducing a number of key innovations into the market that define commercial pools today—such as the stainless steel perimeter, the movable bulkhead, and the vacuum sand filter.

     In the early ’70s, the company relocated to Rock Hill, S.C., where it fabricates a line of high performance products designed to create the most distinctive aquatic facilities in a 200,000-plus-square-foot manufacturing plant.

     Today, Paddock works on projects ranging from facilities like YMCAs to Olympic style competitive 50 meter pools at universities and swim clubs. In addition to its work with SwimMAC Carolina, in the Charlotte region, Paddock was the pool contractor for the Huntersville Aquatic Center, Harris YMCA, and Carmel Country Club. Paddock has also built the pools at regional universities such as Winthrop, Duke, N.C. State, NCCU, and FSU.

     In fact, the Paddock Pool Equipment Company and its dealer group nationwide have built upwards of 6,000 commercial pools across the country. The company provides equipment on 80 to 120 projects each year.

     “About 85 percent of our business comes from our manufactured products,” says Todd Williams, sales and product manager for Paddock. “Our products include pool gutters, filters, bulkheads, drain covers and other custom items for commercial pools.

     “And all of our equipment is made in America,” adds Baker, with obvious pride.

 

Refreshingly Resourceful

     Don’s father, Bill Baker, is considered to be the “founding father” of the modern-day Paddock Pool Equipment Company and one of the great innovators of the commercial pool industry.

     Baker recounts the story of his father’s partnership with and generous donation of a 50-meter swimming pool to the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club (MAC). In the late ’80s, he says, Jeff Gaeckle, then head swim coach of MAC, was approached by the elder Baker who asked if MAC would like its own pool.

     Gaeckle quickly responded, “How about a 50 meter by 25 yard?”

     Bill Baker countered, “How deep?”

     Then, Bill and his team at Paddock proceeded to design and build the pool, and donated it to MAC. The facility has become an integral part of Charlotte Latin School’s campus and programming, has been the focal point for swimming in the Charlotte region, has been named a Center of Excellence by USA Swimming, and is home to an elite team of professional athletes with an internationally recognized developmental program, having placed no less than five athletes on USA Olympic Teams.

     Needless to say, Paddock has a strong relationship with what is now the SwimMAC Carolina organization.

Paddock has consistently led the industry in knowledge and production of pool products,” says Williams.

     “If you have a problem, you bring it to us and we’ll come up with a solution,” says Williams. “Don Baker grew up in the swimming pool business—he’s eaten it, slept it, swam it, and known it since he was a kid. When he’s asked to come up with a solution, it just clicks with him.”

     “Baker is one smart guy,” says Tom Sinclair, P.E., CEO and president of Sinclair & Associates, a Duncan, S.C., engineering firm that works in aquatic design and often partners with Paddock. “He can figure out solutions. Taking a problem, figuring it out, and turning it into opportunity is what Paddock does. That’s true business innovation.”

     Baker shuns the accolades and says he’s not an engineer, just a person who studies swimming pool design and construction to try to develop needed solutions to pool problems.

     “He’s the captain of the ship,” says Williams. “He knows so many people in the industry and they come to him for his opinion and experience.

     “Most swimming pool developers and operators have a connection back to Paddock; that tree has dropped a lot of acorns and grown a lot more trees. Many of these upstart companies got their knowledge and training from working with Paddock,” continues Williams.

 

Innovative Products

     With a reputation of innovation—and patents to back it up—Paddock has introduced several successful products to the industry.

     “Top products sales change each year,” says Williams, but generally include gutters, filters, and bulkheads and drain covers.”

     “Pool perimeter gutters are currently the top selling product,” says Williams. “We offer different solutions to recirculate the water in the pool.”

     A new product introduced in 2003 was radius gutters, used in free-form pools.

     Pool water filters are another top-selling Paddock product. The compact vacuum sand filter pulls the water thru the sand bed removing dirt particles down to 1.5 to 2 microns, providing excellent water clarity.

     “Paddock also promoted an ultraviolet (UV) system about 10 years ago to improve pool water quality,” says Baker. The medium pressure UV bulbs are encased in stainless steel vessels. The water is sanitized as it passes the UV light and kills 99 percent of all viruses and bacteria’s including cryptosporidium.

     Pool bulkheads are another top seller for Paddock. Bulkheads are large movable beams used to partition pools for multiple activities, such as competitive swim meets on one side and recreational exercise on the other. The bulkheads are equipped with rollers on each end that ride on the pool gutters and are easily positioned by the pool staff.

     Paddock also is known for the drain covers it developed in response to the Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) law that required every commercial pool and spa to change the drain covers to prevent entrapments.

     “When VGB came to the forefront, Baker figured out a quick and effective solution,” says Sinclair.

     Paddock developed and patented a flat stainless steel drain cover. The Paddock Flat Covers were the first large drain covers to be approved that could be installed flush on the floor eliminating the suction and entrapment issues. Constructed of stainless steel rather than PVC plastic, the Paddock covers quickly became the cover of choice for many pool operators.

 

Introducing the Paddock Evacuator

     Recently, Paddock has taken up the struggle to improve air quality around indoor pools. That nasty closeted odor-embedded chlorine-based smell is not only unhealthy, but its presence also seriously corrodes pool equipment.

     The idea came about when, in 2009, the Paddock and Sinclair companies started work on a pool renovation project with the Greenville County (S.C.) Recreation District. Their facility had a projected lifespan of 40 years, but was falling apart after just 17.

     The problem was chloramines. The chloramines were corroding the Greenville facility’s interior systems.

     The layman’s typical reaction to chloramines in the pool air is that there is too much chlorine in the pool. However, this foul odor is not caused by excess chlorine but rather by a chlorine compound called chloramine. Chloramines are created in the water when chlorine does its job—attacking and burning up nitrogen introduced into the water by bathers. These chloramines are very volatile and off gas from the surface of the pool when agitated.

     Chloramines have long been linked to breathing issues amongst pool users; however, problems aren’t limited to humans. Chloramines permeate facilities as well, deteriorating building components, pool accessories and air handling systems. Facility managers recognize how poor air quality can hurt attendance of spectators at events and even participation by recreational users.

     Attempts to reduce the chloramines in the pool water by “shocking” it with high levels of chlorine and other chemicals help reduce the chloramines, but not enough. The released gases linger and are recirculated through the facility’s dehumidification and air handling system.

     “Most pools try to get rid of chloramines in the pool space using the ‘Solution by Dilution Method.’ The air in the facility is mixed and a small percentage is continuously exhausted,” explains Baker. “You end up exhausting 10 percent of the chloramines and putting the other 90 percent back into the facility. The indoor water parks with interactive spray features have the toughest time with chloramines.”

     Paddock was challenged to find a solution and created a patent-pending piece of equipment called the Paddock Evacuator. Custom-designed for individual pools, it source captures and exhausts the chloramine-laden air out of the facility. The system can also be designed with heat recovery equipment to pump warm air back inside the building, resulting in significant energy savings in colder climates.

     The Greenville facility is now built and operational with an Evacuator helping to provide fresh air and eliminate the chloramine issue.

     Paddock Pool Equipment Company handles the Paddock Evacuator for new construction applications; it has spun off the Paddock Evacuator Company to provide solutions for existing facilities.

     “This past January, we asked Jeff Gaeckle, if we could test our unit on the SwimMAC Training Center and he agreed,” says Baker, “The swimmers and coaches liked it so much they wouldn’t let us remove it.”

     Gaeckle was so impressed with the results and the enormous impact he could forsee the Paddock Evacuator having on the pool industry at large, that he has joined the Paddock Evacuator team as president.

     “As soon as I saw this, I thought it made perfect sense,” says David Marsh, two-time Olympic coach. Marsh is the CEO and director of coaching at SwimMAC Carolina. “It was kind of an epiphany: you don’t have to accept bad air at a pool any longer.”

     “We had three big-screen televisions in our pool facility, all eaten away from chloramines in just over a year,” continues Marsh. “If it’s eating up the stainless steel and wires to that extent, think what it’s doing to your body.”

     Once the Evacuator was installed at his club’s training facility at Charlotte Latin School, Marsh says there was an immediate change.

     “From a health perspective, it’s a huge change,” he says. “It provides swimmers, visitors and people working around pools, like coaches and lifeguards, a better and healthier pool environment. The system will help swimmers who train and compete regularly. It’s a real game-changer.”

     Williams thinks the Paddock Evacuator is so successful in changing the air quality, that it has the potential to quickly take over 35 to 40 percent of the company’s sales.

     Whatever is the case, one thing is for sure: Don Baker will be diving into other problems and surfacing with more innovative solutions, like a fish to water.

     “Don Baker is a guy that everyone can depend on,” says Sinclair. “He works well with people in the industry and in the field, always innovating new products.”

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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