The tri-state area was hit with another tough winter this year with heavy rain, snow and bitter temperatures. But now that the gloomy days have passed and the sun is shining again, it's time for condos and co-ops to get their recreational amenities fixed up and ready for the warmer weather.
Once April rolls around, it's time for swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, golf courses and lots of other things people take for granted to be cleaned, repaired and prepped to maintain their value to homeowners and association members. These are some of a community's biggest attractions, and proper maintenance for their busy season is essential.
Tennis courts offer huge benefits to residents: they provide an easy way of keeping in shape, and they increase property values in the community. Courts don't take care of themselves, however, and the last thing players want to see when they go out to play the first match of the season is an unplayable, debris-strewn court.
"A lot of times if leaves lay on the court all winter long, there is a lot of grime and mildew underneath," says Daniel Clapp of All-Star Tennis Courts in Fair Haven. "Even when the court's dry, there are dark black patches that are very slippery. When a player runs and goes to stop, they can slip."
"There are a number of other trouble spots as well," says Clapp. "Places where puddles are, places on the southern edge of the court if there's trees around the court—it tends to mildew there since the sun never gets to it. Those need to be taken care of."
Most court-care companies will give a free estimate to inspect the court and see what needs to be done. It's important that the proper cleanup crews are contracted in the winter though, and not when spring first rolls around.
"When people wait until that first person goes to hit a tennis ball and complains about it to call us, we're usually booked up for a while because people make decisions about contracting with us over the winter," Clapp says. "We start cleaning and reconditioning tennis courts in April, and we go until Halloween. There's a lot that can be done."
Things that need to be done include power-washing the court surface to clean it, checking for cracks and getting them filled, and making sure the net is up to par. You also need to reinstall the windscreens that are around the court, as they are usually taken down during the winter months.
"With the net, you must make sure it has the proper tension and that the net isn't falling apart," Clapp says. "It needs to be at a certain height and you have to check the net posts to make sure they are holding [the net] up properly."
A major problem for tennis players comes from kids who claim the courts as their own to play roller-hockey. They take the nets down, and when tennis players come to play, they either can't or don't want to put the nets back up themselves.
"A lot of condos are now setting aside places for roller-hockey," says Clapp. "If they have multiple courts, they designate one for hockey. This helps maintain a proper environment for the tennis players."
Cracks are typically repaired and filled using a liquid asphalt, acrylic or an elastic caulking crack filler. These methods are initially effective but cracks tend to reappear within months or after a year. Clapp uses an ARMOR crack repair system in which a knitted fabric is installed over the crack to allow for movement and is color-coated to match the surface and terrain of the court. This process, says Clapp, keeps cracks from resurfacing for an average of about five to 10 years and is proven effective in all weather and temperatures. Clapp adds that refilling cracks could cost $2.00 per linear foot while the ARMOR crack repair system can be as much as $20 a linear foot. However, crack filling is not a long-term solution and the cracks would reappear, requiring the process to be done year after year, he says. "With ARMOR you don't know the court's cracked, it looks brand new." The ARMOR crack repair system can be more cost-effective in the long run and cheaper than replacing an entire tennis court, which he estimates may cost upwards of $20,000 to install, he says.
Pool maintenance needs to be done in a timely fashion so that when warm weather arrives, your association members are ready to take a refreshing dip in the community swimming pool.
"Generally if a pool is in good shape you are just taking the cover off of it, cleaning them up and getting them ready for inspections," says Steve Jannarone of Candlewood Management Services in Howell. "It's best to open pools as soon as possible once the warmer weather starts, because if there are any problems that need to be fixed, there will be plenty of time."
But because of the harsh winter, the frozen water could have caused some damage. "Tile could pop, and you need to be prepared to replace that," says Jannarone. "Winter is always a good indication of leaks also, because water will equal out and find its release point, so if you go to open the pool and it's lower than it should be, the leak is probably above where the water level is."
This is an important year for New Jersey associations and boards when it comes to swimming pools. Under New Jersey state law, each swimming pool, hot tub or spa located in a multifamily residential development needs to have a bonding and grounding certification and also an electrical certificate of approval. The bonding and grounding certificate is renewable every five years after issuance by a certified electrical testing agency, and the electrical certificate, which is issued by the local municipality, must be renewed annually. The law requiring electrical inspection of swimming pools came about in 1998 after a lifeguard was electrocuted at a New Brunswick apartment complex after touching a pump with faulty wiring.
"The bonding and grounding is an electrical wire that goes underneath the perimeter of the pool," says Jannarone. "If there are any problems with it, it could be very time consuming [to fix]."
Once a pool is opened, says Jannarone, "You have to balance the water each day and always check the chemistry. If you have a sand filter, backwashing needs to be done about once a week. Also, you always want to be sure that your skimmers and basket are cleaned every day to prevent any clogs from the pump."
Aside from fixing broken filters and pumps and brushing and vacuuming your pool on a regular basis, the biggest emergency in the pool business concerns broken glass entering the water. If this is to happen, a pool needs to be drained immediately. "If it's clear glass especially, the only way to know it's all out is by draining the pool and vacuuming the entire surface," Jannarone says.
Playgrounds must also be maintained regularly and adhere to strict safety codes, according to George Herberger of Ben Shaffer & Associates, a playground specialist in Lake Hopatcong. "I can't stress this enough: the most important thing to check is the safety surface," adds Herberger. "Seventy percent of all injuries on the playground come from a fall to the surface. It is critical to have the proper safety surfacing on equipment."
According to The Playground Safety Subcode for New Jersey, which are regulations administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and based on national consumer product safety guidelines, if you are using loose surfacing materials like sand or wood chips, it's important to check for specified depth throughout the playground and add new material to even it out. If a safety surface is Cushiondeck or a similar matting tile, you must check for wear or damage. Besides the surface area, there are plenty of other things that need to be examined on a playground, Herberger says.
"The first thing you should do is general maintenance. Get rid of loose items that shouldn't be there, like broken glass and beer bottles," he says. "Look for things that may have rusted or corroded over the winter. Check for worn swing hangers, broken anchors, or exposed sharp corners."
According to Herberger, rust can be a playground's worst nightmare. Rust can eat through metal and cause swings and equipment to be so damaged, they're unsalvageable and must be taken down.
In New Jersey, playgrounds need to be brought up to the standard of The Handbook for Public Playground Safety, which are the national guidelines for playground safety that have been adopted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Playgrounds must be upgraded or have replacement equipment installed to comply with the New Jersey Playground Safety Subcode by October 18, 2004 and be compliant with all safety surfacing for equipment by the year 2007.
"There's no playground police, but if an injury occurs, there could be trouble," Herberger warns. "People should get an inspection checklist and keep track on a daily, weekly and monthly basis of everything."
Maintenance should become a routine occurrence, says Keith Sacks of Gametime Playgrounds and Park Equipment in Bricktown. "Check things like safety surfacing, sharp points, loose nuts and bolts on hardware, and make sure nothing is broken," says Sacks. "You have to look out for worn-out swing chains, and pivots on top where chains hook, or where chains hook to a seat—a lot of people don't look at that, and they get worn so badly that if a child gets on it, could snap right off. That's trouble."
Par For The Course
When the middle of March comes around, out come the greens keepers to get the golf courses in shape for a busy season on the links.
"In winter we get a little bored, so we do some pruning, but there's nothing else we can really do until the weather is right," says Dave Skelly, the course superintendent at Clearbrook Golf Course in Cranbury. "We start with the basics and just mow the greens, the fairways and the rough. Then we change the cups because if you don't, they would wear out the greens in that area."
An important thing on the golf course is to make sure that proper irrigation is maintained. If water doesn't flow evenly into the ground, the course can get brown spots and the maintenance crew will be forced to hand water those areas and put down a wetting agent, which helps water penetrate the trouble spots.
"You also have to spray pesticide and re-spray every three weeks or so," Skelly says. "That and fertilization are important to keep up with throughout the golf season."
Another thing that needs to be done when a course first opens is to clean up the sand traps. "All-new sand is added every three years or so, but because so much is lost to wind in the winter, you have to replace some every year as well," Skelly says. "Early in spring we edge the traps too, removing the grass growing into them."
Upkeep of the golf course is critical. "Fairways are maintained twice a week and the rough about once a week," says Skelly, "[But] the greens must be maintained on a daily basis because they're the most important—that's what golfers talk about when they come to a course; they talk about the shape of the greens."
A golf course requires a dedicated maintenance plan, and historically each facility would have their own in-house superintendent, arborists, mechanics and other personnel, and probably $1 million or more worth of specialized equipment to keep the landscaping up to par, according to Ed Shearon, the president of Shearon Golf, a division of Shearon Environmental Design with offices in Princeton and Voorhees in New Jersey and Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. The trend now for many facilities, though, is to hire an outside management company and achieve cost savings through the use of shared equipment. A golf course would need a detailed budget, even if they just use in-house staff and personnel, he says.
Golf course greens, for example, are made up of what is called "bent grass," says Shearon, a special blend of very short grass that grows less than one-eighth of an inch. This type of grass, though, is easily stressed when subjected to climate changes and mowing, and needs much more care than your normal everyday lawn does, he says. In the Philadelphia metro area, the average annual cost for maintaining a country club-type golf course (not including capital) is approximately $785,000. A golf course needs very sophisticated multi-million-dollar irrigation systems installed, certain fungicides sprayed to get rid of weeds and pests, environmental monitoring and control, and a long-term maintenance plan that can handle the management of from 130 to 200 acres of open space.
From a land planning perspective, many residential communities are opting to include a golf course as an amenity because it adds immensely to the property values of the building lots, Shearon says. At Ravens Claw, a golf course/residential community that Shearon Golf is designing and building in Limerick, Pa., each buildable lot is estimated to be worth an average of $50,000 more than it would have been without the presence of the golf course, he says. And many of the buyers do not even play the game, he says. Less than 50 percent of people in the Northeast that live around a golf course are actually golfers. Most buy the homes because of the aesthetics, vistas and wildlife habitat that a golf course brings, Shearon explains. "If you like open space, beautiful vistas, wildlife areas, and a place in the off season that maybe you can cross-country ski or jog, it's a nice environment to live next to."
Spring Has Sprung
If you're lucky enough to live in a well-appointed community with lots of leisure-time activities, the season for enjoying those amenities has arrived—so grab your clubs, your beach towel, or your racket, and take advantage of what your community has to offer.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.