June 1, 2011
By Ron Privrasky Jr.
Movable fibreglass bulkheads stand out as the centrepiece in a swimming pool facility. Typically 1.2-m (4-ft) wide, bulkheads span the pool’s width like a bridge and link various activities, from lap swimming at the far end of the pool to water polo or classes when placed in the middle. Pools with bulkheads draw more revenue, as they are used more often and allow for a variety of uses. They also form an attractive element at the surface, carrying lane markings up to targets, timing pads, starting platforms and polo nets. Swimmers and staff can walk out onto the bulkhead to conduct competitions and lifeguards can patrol the very centre of the pool. Fibreglass bulkheads give aquatic facilities versatility, while saving capital costs and contributing to operational profit.
Many common materials were used during the development of pool bulkheads after the Second World War. Wood, metal, concrete, even 208-L (55-gal) drums and chain link fencing were tried.
Eventually, fibreglass became the preferred choice for professionals who wanted corrosion-resistant, lightweight movability, with strength for safety and a competitive edge in racing times.
The fibreglass boat and auto body manufacturing business led to the development of the fibreglass pool, filter and bulkhead industries. Most bulkheads made today are constructed of fibreglass. Aluminum has nearly been abandoned; even high-quality stainless steel (type 316L grade) still proves to corrode and rust at its welds, eventually needing replacement.
When manufacturing bulkheads out of fibreglass, a curing process is used, as opposed to a stamped product. The manufacturing process must take place under exacting and controlled conditions. The inherent strength of a solid cure is much more beneficial to that of the added strength of metal or hardware.
Bulkheads using a double-box monolithic design not only provides high performance for many years, but true one-piece construction means no weak points where failure can occur. This design method also provides one of the industry’s highest live load and safety factor for bearing weight at the centre. This allows more people on the bulkhead with minimal deflection and over applied weight without failure.
For decades, all over the globe, numerous records have been set at all levels of Olympic, university and municipal aquatic competitions and practice, showing the enduring value of fibreglass bulkheads in continuous service.
Monolithic constructed bulkheads for competitive aquatics can include a horizontal, fibreglass shelf at the waterline to permit multiple lane lines to be installed without creating side deflections. Starting platform anchors go through the top deck and continue on through the waterline shelf to make the starting platform rigid. The side walls are solid below the waterline and unlike lattice-type bulkheads, where fingers and toes can get caught, fibreglass bulkheads are smooth and rigid, allowing for strong take-off and kick turns during competitions. Also, full openings at the waterline not only provide a handhold, but also let the swimming bow waves pass through without rebounding back into the swim lanes.
Fibreglass bulkheads can also be easily fitted with timing systems, starting platforms, water polo goals and other stanchion anchors. For example, every year there are more starting platforms on the market and facilities equipped with a fibreglass bulkhead can accommodate most.
Fibreglass composites are so useful today they are ubiquitously found in daily life, in everything from bathroom showers to athletic gear and automobiles. However, some myths endure about fibreglass in swimming pool applications.
One common misconception is fibreglass corrodes or delaminates and the surface can chip, peel, fray and splinter. This type of wear and tear can be found on a boat that has been run aground on a sharp reef; however, it would not occur on a quality fibreglass bulkhead. Most can be rolled on castor wheels, while newer bulkheads use air chamber flotation systems to lift and move the bulkhead without wheels.
Fibreglass bulkheads can also be easily and inexpensively refinished with new gel coating to look like new. Pool water and the surrounding air are considered by chemists to comprise one of the most corrosive environments for most materials given long-term exposure. While everything deteriorates to some degree, fibreglass, especially when manufactured with high-quality, vinylester resin, is more resilient. By applying a good gel coat every few years, bulkheads will stay looking new for a fraction of the cost of replacement.
Not all fibreglass bulkheads are the same and not all monolithic bulkheads are truly one-piece. For example, there have been attempts at monolithic, on-site assembled bulkheads and other claims of fastened sections being one-piece construction. However, there have been instances of these sectional bulkheads breaking and falling into pools.
Another myth about monolithic bulkheads is they do not fit into existing pool facilities, because they are a one-piece design. However, worn-out bulkheads of all types and materials are replaced with fibreglass bulkheads each year. Fibreglass-reinforced composite is a great medium for manufacturing bulkheads. Each can be designed with unique sizing and features to fit in a variety of existing facilities, while remaining universal in construction and cure. As such, replacements have been made in various aquatic centres all over the world.
Up to and after delivery, unique custom design features can be applied to a fibreglass bulkhead, allowing more choices and flexibility for end users. Last-minute changes to starting platforms, timing systems, grates, grills, toe ledges, skirts, handholds, colours, rails, ladders, polo goals, lane line anchors, nets and ramps, for example, are possible, not catastrophic.
Ron Privrasky Jr., is CEO of Starkbulkheads in Arlington, Wash. He has been in the fibreglass industry for 23 years and has been working for the Stark companies for more than two decades. Privrasky has been operating the company for the past 10 years. He started in the industry manufacturing bulkheads, filters and pools, then moved up to plant supervisor/manager. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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