New regulations require mechanical chair lifts at public pools

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – New federal regulations require all public pools to install mechanical chair lifts for disabled swimmers.

Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act say, by May 21, public pools must upgrade with chair lifts, which are essentially mini cranes that move wheelchair users into the water. Failing to install this costly equipment could make public pool owners or managers face penalties or possible closure.

"Without the chair lift, we would not be able to get our certification to be able to open in early June, like we do every year," said David Stewart, mayor of Newport.

The Newport city pool attracts dozens of kids hoping to cool off from the summer's sweltering heat, but patrons may have only gotten as close as the gates this year if the city decided not to purchase and install a chair lift.

"We would have to be able to have it open," Stewart said about the pool, "so therefore we had to go by the rules and put this very expensive chair in."

The Newport City Council recently agreed to spend more than $3,500 on a mechanical chair lift for the city pool. The mayor calls the expense necessary, but unexpected. He says the City of Newport had to alter its 2012 budget to afford the equipment.

"We actually had to take that $3,500 from existing things that were budgeted," Stewart explained. "Frankly, we just, at the pool, will have to spend that $3,500 for this chair lift, if used at all, will be used very rarely."

The changes do not affect private pools, like the one at the Newport Country Club. For the thousands of public pools nationwide, however, it is a massive and expensive undertaking.

The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals estimates between 235,000 and 310,000 pools require the upgrade. Manufacturers say the lifts run $3,500 to $6,500, and installations can double those costs. Altogether, the trade group says owners could face costs exceeding $1 billion.

The costly expense makes places like the Days Inn in Newport consider leaving the cover on their pool, at least this year. The Newport city pool has already ordered its lift, and the mayor says it should open in time for the usual swimming season to start.

"There are several of these having to be installed and so we had to kind of get in line," Stewart noted about the chair lifts. "From all indications, we're going to be able to get ours installed and be well within the rule before the first of June when our deadline is to open."

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