- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Marc Tong is opening residential pools for the summer season all over the Washington area this week.

At this time of year, Mr. Tong, 50, is the man in demand from Pool Service Co., an Arlington pool-maintenance shop. He and his helper, Mike O’Donnell, pack up their equipment for the day in a large, blue van sporting the company’s frog logo and head to their first assignment.

They first drive to Poolesville, where Mr. Tong is getting a 10-foot-deep pool ready for homeowner Austin Kiplinger.

He has been working on the pool since he was a teenager. Mr. Tong’s summer job in his teens has developed into a 35-year career in the pool-service industry.

“It was a summertime job that got way outta hand,” Mr. Tong laughingly said.

He worked with Pool Service once before in the 1980s before moving on to commercial pool service for customers such as water parks, hotels and apartment complexes.

He came back to working on home pools because he likes Pool Service and prefers the simplicity of backyard pools.

“Lazy river and waterfall features are tricky, but that seems to be where the regular pool is heading. People are spending more time and money in the back yard,” he said.

Normally, Mr. Tong checks back at a residential pool during the winter months after he closes it to make sure the water has the right balance of chemicals.

Mr. Tong and Mr. O’Donnell first clean off the mesh tarp covering the pool and the deck at the spacious farm estate called Montevideo.

Mr. Tong takes a leaf blower and starts clearing away debris, leaves and twigs scattered everywhere. He laughs when he is done, swatting the five or six cicadas that have settled onto his back.

“They think I’m a large cicada” because of the leaf blower’s noise, he said.

After the area is cleaned, Mr. Tong and Mr. O’Donnell take the pins out of the ground that hold the mesh tarp in place and pull it back to reveal a full swimming pool with murky green water.

“It’s actually not that bad. The water is clear to the bottom, so all this really needs is a superchlorination, filtering and vacuuming,” Mr. Tong said.

Rather than drain the pool, Mr. Tong plans on treating the water with chemicals to make it safe swimming water. A pool can conserve its water for five to eight years before it has to be drained, he explained.

The 50,000 gallons of water, which has an abundant amount of debris floating along the surface, is clear enough to reveal a dark, green algae coating the pool sides and floor. Three chlorine-dispenser bags float at one end of the pool. They are used to kill bacteria in the water during the winter.

Mr. Tong heads to the shed of the pool cabana on the estate to start up the filter and heater engines. Mr. O’Donnell analyzes the water and puts together a chemical mix that will balance the cyanuric acid, alkalinity level, chlorine and calcium hardness in the water.

The main objective in opening the pool is to clean the water and prepare the pool for a thorough vacuuming three days later. “It doesn’t make sense to vacuum now because I would just have to come back and do the job again,” Mr. Tong said.

While Mr. O’Donnell pours chemicals into the pool, Mr. Tong is struggling to get the engines operational. He dismantled most of the machines in October when he closed up the Kiplinger pool. “It’s the hardest part of opening a pool,” he said.

Mr. Tong has to pump water again through pipes that connect the filter, heater and automator to the pool. The pipes were blown out with air to keep them from freezing and breaking during the winter months. It takes Mr. Tong a few tries, but he eventually has water pumping through the humming machines.

The chemical mix that was dropped in about an hour ago has moved most of the debris on the bottom and Mr. Tong is confident once the debris is filtered, all that is needed is a good vacuuming.

Mr. Tong has nine more house calls to make before the end of the day.

He is working his way back toward his Arlington office by stopping first at homes in Potomac then Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

“It’s really the busy season now because last week people were frantic to open their pools for Memorial Day. This week they want them ready for graduation parties,” he said.

But the calls will die down by July before starting up again in the fall, he adds.

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