Backstory: Durham community pool reopens with a splash

vbridges@newsobserver.comJuly 29, 2013 

  • Advice from Danny Dennis and Deb Mullins

    •  Have a good business plan.

    •  Make sure it your plan is feasible.

    •  Measure what you think your time commitment will be and multiply it by two.

— It’s 7 p.m. on a Monday night, and kids are doing flips off a high diving board, handstands in the shallow end, and throwing wet balls at one another and their parents.

For Homestead Heights Pool members, it’s just another summer evening at a small business that Danny Dennis and Deb Mullins have been building for nearly two years.

After the summer of 2011, the Homestead Heights Swim Association, a nonprofit organization that managed the pool built in the late 1950s, sold the facility because they couldn’t afford to keep it through the winter, said Mullins, who was a member of the association’s board.

Mullins decided she wanted to buy it, and she wanted Dennis to be her partner. They had both retired from Verizon years ago, and Dennis started a construction company, Danny Dennis Construction.

“I contacted him because I knew he could make things happen from the construction standpoint,” Mullins said. “The place needed work.”

At first Dennis said no but soon came around.

“I knew she was very customer-focused, very driven to take care of the memberships and agreed to do the working and day-to-day running of it,” Dennis said.

After purchasing the business, the owners and their spouses spent days updating and repairing the pool area. They focused on large and small details, from replacing broken items and repainting most surfaces to building wooden stands to hold the trash cans.

“Just little things to make it more appealing to the eye,” Dennis said. “Curb appeal.”

They also added wireless Internet access and speakers for music.

Mullins called previous members and told them that the pool would be reopening this year with a new shine. She followed up with emails that offered an update on the improvements.

Mullins and Dennis hosted an open house for former members in February 2012 and held another the following May.

“The day of the open house it was like ‘Wow,’ ” Dennis said. “People couldn’t believe it.”

They advertised with yard signs, fliers and cards distributed in grocery stores, schools and libraries and redesigned the pool’s website. They also gave free family passes to staffers at public schools near the pool.

About 120 families sought memberships the first summer – almost twice their goal of 75. A summer – or a half-summer – membership includes access to a children’s and Olympic pools with two diving boards, the snack bar, and swim noodles and kickboards. Members also have access to a small basketball court, a volleyball court and a covered pavilion with grills. At least two lifeguards, which are provided by a third-party service, are always on duty when the pool is open.

The business didn’t lose money the first year, Dennis said, but that’s only because the owners didn’t charge for their time and resources.

Dennis and Mullins said they plan to increase membership by 10 percent each year and eventually have a waiting list.

Sena Devaney has been bringing her two daughters to the pool for about six years. The improvements have made a huge difference to the community asset.

“This is a lifesaver for the summer,” she said. “It is just wonderful to have a pool to go to.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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