As show organizers considered the impending Pool & Spa show in Atlantic City this year, they decided to plan something really special to help educate industry members on the nuances of pool hydraulics. And playing on a number of references both in and outside the industry, they decided to call it "The Wall."

Primarily the brainchild of Trish McCormick, manager of NESPA's The Pool & Spa Show, and Paulette Pitrak, NESPA's deputy executive director, The Wall was developed as part of a brainstorming process to create unique, interactive learning experiences for attendees.

"This year we were determined to make sure everybody saw the importance of face-to-face, business-to-business networking," says McCormick. "We wanted to give people something of value they can't get from looking at 'online trade shows' while sitting at their computer, or even from working out in the field."

The result of McCormick and Pitrak's creative brainstorming was an innovative, interactive, multifaceted display designed to educate show attendees about a range of hydraulics issues. "Our industry needs visual and tactile learning experiences," Pitrak says. "Just showing people a PowerPoint presentation about hydraulics doesn't do the trick."

Once they crystalized the concept — the notion of turning what could be a dull, static display into an exciting, hands-on experience — Pitrak enlisted the help of Steve Barnes, director of science and compliance at manufacturer AquaStar Pool Products. Barnes, who had taught educational seminars for years, immediately loved the idea.

"The interactivity and science-fair type approach really appealed to me," he notes. "It took me back to when I was 10 years old, when my parents dropped me off at the Toronto Science Fair while they went to visit family.

"There was an interactive water exhibit with the Archimedes screw, plus other displays where you could do all kinds of things with water. I was mesmerized! Even though I'd been there all day, my parents practically had to drag me out when they returned."

Barnes got onboard — no dragging needed — right away. He became The Wall's primary designer, incorporating input from Pitrak and other experts she enlisted.

Six Sections of Active Learning

The first thing Barnes and Pitrak did was list the key teaching objectives of The Wall. Then, using SolidWorks, a 3-D CAD program, they laid out an installation of impressive size: 75 feet wide, 10 feet high and 30 feet deep.

Although known simply as The Wall, it displayed a large banner that proclaimed the overall theme: "Water in Motion." The Wall was divided into six demonstrations, each with one pump to help illustrate the points being made.

In addition to AquaStar, the three largest manufacturers in the pool and spa industry, Hayward, Pentair and Zodiac, participated in the project. Each of them was in charge of two demonstrations, and each had a 10-foot-round aboveground pool to support their presentation. All three pools were outfitted with equipment from AquaStar and each of the manufacturers.

While each section highlighted a different aspect of hydraulics, they all emphasized the goal of attaining maximum system performance. Briefly stated, these were the major points demonstrated in The Wall:

  • How different pipe sizes affect energy efficiency
  • How dirty filters affect variable speed pump energy efficiency
  • How a VGB single unblockable drain prevents suction entrapment
  • The advantage of using sweep elbows versus hard elbows in piping
  • The importance of proper pipe design and layout for fast priming speed

The interactivity of The Wall stemmed from the fact that every section displayed moving water, in some cases through clear pipes that had ribbons inside to reveal flow patterns. Visitors could start motors, turn valves, watch pressure gauges and evaluate the results in terms of the demonstrations' key take-away points. There was an expert on-site (kind of a "Bill Nye the Science Guy" type, Pitrak says) to guide people through the installation and explain the demos.

Although the Big Three manufacturers helped staff The Wall, the real emcee during the long and exhausting three days of the Show was Barnes. He personally guided nearly all visitors to The Wall, through the demos, starting at one end and working his way to the other.

Barnes recalls, "Sometimes people would come up to me and ask, 'What exactly are you guys doing here?' I'd tell them, 'Well, let me take you through it.' I might start the first demo with seven or eight people, but by the time I got to the center section, I would be surrounded by 30 or 40. I estimate that about 90 percent of visitors to The Wall stayed all the way to the end of my presentation."

Barnes spent about half an hour on the demonstrations, followed by an additional 20 minutes answering questions, of which there were many. After a 10-minute break, he started over.

Feedback received since the show confirms the value of The Wall. "Some people say they thought they already knew it all, but the demonstrations opened their eyes to new possibilities. Others say The Wall helped reinforce prior training that they had given to their staff," McCormick says.

From the beginning, the team at NESPA resolved that if The Wall was a success at the 2016 show — which it was by all accounts — they would continue to build on that success in years to come with more interactive learning experiences.

By gaining the knowledge to do a better job of complying with codes and standards, Barnes emphasizes, pool builders will be more capable of educating their customers. "They'll communicate to homeowners that, although they might be a bit higher priced than the next guy, they're building a better pool — one that complies with government regulations, uses less energy and is as safe as possible."