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Backyard cool; Pool owners love convenience, entertainment value.

Byline: Margaret LeRoux

Backyard swimming pools - hundreds of them scattered across Worcester County like glittering aqua beads from a broken necklace. As a passenger in a low flying aircraft, I was amazed at the number of pools and how vibrantly they stand out in the landscape below.

The brevity of our New England summers makes them so alluring that even our frugal natures seem to justify the expense of a pool's upkeep. And there's the satisfaction of having such ready access to water whenever you feel like taking a dip.

The three pool-owning families profiled here enjoy them precisely because of their backyard location. Not having to fight the crowds on beaches or highways justifies the expense of a backyard pool, they say. And there is the added aesthetic benefit of gazing out a window at that cool, blue water. How do you put a price on that?

Epicenter for summer activity // The O'Connors of West Boylston

Sharon and Pat O'Connor don't have to fly off to an exotic locale to get away from it all. The West Boylston couple find serenity in their own backyard, where an in-ground swimming pool is surrounded by natural landscaping, a lush flower garden and a fishpond.

"It feels like you're in Maui," says Pat O'Connor.

On a hot summer afternoon you might want to amend that to Maui at the height of the tourist season, because the pool and adjacent pool house are centers of activity for the O'Connors' four children and their friends.

"From Memorial Day to mid-October, that's where you'll find us," said Sharon O'Connor. "I come home from work, get myself a lemonade, hop onto my little float board and hang out in the pool with the kids for the rest of the afternoon."

The O'Connors had an above-ground pool in the backyard of their previous house, but when they moved to West Boylston, they installed an in-ground pool.

"We wanted to make it more of a respite, so we added stonework, plants and the tranquility pool with a fountain and goldfish," Sharon O'Connor said. "We do a lot of entertaining in the summer and the pool is a focal point."

When it's too cool for swimming or when it is raining, you'll find the O'Connor children in the pool house, equipped with a TV, stereo, video games and a small refrigerator.

Sharon O'Connor acknowledges that the cost of heating the pool has become an issue. They are considering shifting to solar heat. "If it had been more readily available when we put the pool in, we would have done it then," she said.

One environmental accommodation they already have made was adding an ozone generator to help sanitize the pool. "Having the ozonator means we use fewer chemicals," Sharon O'Connor said. "It's a greener approach to pool maintenance."

Down time, not drive time // The Tenczars of Sturbridge

With a daily commute from her home in Sturbridge to her job in Cambridge, the last thing Danielle Tenczar wanted to do for weekend relaxation was get into the car and drive somewhere. Since she grew up with a swimming pool, adding a pool to the landscape she and her husband, Ben, were developing for their own backyard was an addition that made sense for the couple.

"We spend a lot of time working in the yard and the pool really is a nice enhancement," Ben Tenczar said.

Danielle did the research and decided on a figure eight-shaped pool to add some interesting curves to the lawn. Like many pool owners today, the Tenczars were concerned about the environmental impact of using chlorine, so they opted for a salt pool with a filtration system that creates its own chlorine.

"The term salt pool is a little misleading," explains Jenna Gervasi, president of Ideal Pools of Southbridge, the company that installed the Tenczars' pool.

"The level of salinity is much less than the ocean," she said. Salt pools work on a two-part system that uses minerals and a device in the plumbing that turns salt into chlorine through electrolysis. The initial setup is more expensive than systems that use chlorine for sanitation, but the salt system needs no chlorine or algaecide.

Maintenance is easy, Danielle Tenczar said. "Once a week, you just toss in one of the (mineral) packets."

The biggest fan of the pool is the Tenczars' dog, Piper, a bichon frise that has "a fixation with water," say her owners.

Even though the pool is fenced in, Piper squeezes under the gate and takes herself for a swim whenever she wants to. One of her tricks is to jump on a pool float.

"She thinks we got the pool just for her," Ben Tenczar said.

Everyone (almost) into the pool // The Smileys of Shrewsbury

Mark and Beth Smiley installed a backyard swimming pool for their four children, but the family dog, Bart, was an important consideration, too.

"He's a Newfoundland and loves to be in the water when we're at the shore," said Beth Smiley, explaining why the couple chose a fiberglass pool. "We wanted something sturdy."

They needn't have worried about the effect of Bart's claws on a vinyl liner. Despite the water-loving tendencies of his breed, Bart wants nothing to do with the backyard pool; he's shied away from it ever since it was installed three years ago.

Not so for the Smiley children, ranging in age from 8 to 13. They couldn't wait to jump in. Andrew, Allison, Grace and Kate all knew how to swim when the pool was installed, but their mother insisted on swim vests for the two youngest.

"That didn't last long," Smiley said. "Within two months they were like fish in the pool."

On a typical summer afternoon, the Smileys' backyard is full of children; a group of moms keeps watch alongside the pool.

"Summer revolves around the pool," Smiley said. "We keep the freezer full of ice cream and the whole neighborhood gathers - there will be eight to 10 kids in the pool at the same time. It's nice for the moms, too. It gives them an excuse to just sit and watch the kids."

The best part of having a backyard pool is the entertainment value, Smiley says. For the adults in the family, the pool provides a tempting backdrop for dinner parties. Guests gather in the kitchen; food and conversation flow in the direction of the deck. Before the evening is over, it's likely that everyone will be in the pool.

True dog paddlers

The dog days of summer start when the ice melts on the pool and don't end until late October at Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson. One of the most popular features of the organization's 21-acre facility is a swimming pool for canine residents. These four-legged dog paddlers aren't deterred by a chill in the air.

Originally included in an estate the organization acquired 13 years ago, the pool was re-shaped and refurbished to provide recreation and rehabilitation for the resident golden retrievers. The stairs to the pool were eliminated to make it easier on the joints of geriatric dogs and the bottom was painted black to enhance warming from the sun.

The filtration system didn't need to be upgraded, but the goldens' propensity for shedding requires frequent cleaning of the pool's filter. To help keep up with maintenance, a donor supplied the pool with an aquabot, a self-propelled cleaner.

To prevent irritation to the dogs' eyes and skin, the pool is sanitized with a chlorine alternative.

Volunteers take the dogs into the pool one at a time. Nine-year-old Chubb, a golden retriever rescued last year, enjoys splashing on the edge of the pool - he's reluctant to go in any farther - while younger dogs plunge into the deep. Goldens with hip problems are provided with life vests to help keep them afloat.

One of the resident dogs that needs no coaxing into the pool is 2-year-old Mannie, the shelter's mascot, owned by Sue Averill, kennel manager.

Mannie likes nothing better than retrieving a ball thrown into the pool. The little dog, a mixture of terrier and golden retriever, would happily throw himself into the pool all day if he could keep anyone interested in pitching for that long, says his owner.

Mannie's mother and his nine siblings showed up at the shelter after the owner discovered that a neighbor's dog had gotten into her kennel during breeding season. The rest of the puppies were adopted, but Mannie's enthusiasm endeared him to Averill.

Besides fun and exercise, there's another reason why the dogs are introduced to the swimming pool. Staff members observe how the dogs respond to being in the water so they can make better matches during the adoption process.

"We can match a dog who doesn't like water with an owner who's not going to expect the dog to like water," said Wendy Garraghty, director of Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue.


CUTLINE: (1) Kids take the plunge at a pool owned by Mark and Beth Smiley of Shrewsbury. (2) Mannie goes for a swim at the Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue pool in Hudson. (3) From left, Victoria and Julia O'Connor and Sarah Teague play by the pool. (4) Piper enjoys the pool at the Tenczars' home.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 10, 2009
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