By Travis Gulbrandson
There are plans to replace the swimming pool in Prentis Park with an aquatic center, but until that time comes, the old pool is still in use.
The question is, for how long?
“It’s like an inefficient house,” parks and rec director Jim Goblirsch said of the old pool, which was built in 1967. “You live in your house and your windows leak air, hot or cold. When do you want to replace them?
“I can’t give you a guarantee and say it’ll be open another five years,” he said. “These guys are doing a great job keeping it operational, but it is falling apart, and it takes considerable man-hours to keep it operational.”
Goblirsch made these comments earlier this month, when members of the city council took a tour of the current swimming facility.
One of the biggest problems with the pool is that it leaks. According to parks superintendent Aaron Baedke, it loses two inches per day.
“I did the math earlier, and it came out to a little over 10,000 gallons a day going into the ground,” Baedke said. “I don’t know what that would be in a year for water and money. It does slow down as the summer goes on because the ground becomes fully saturated.
“Last year I think we did 160 feet of re-grouting the seams in the worst areas we could,” he said. “It slows the leaks, but I’m hoping that it’s not in a main line, that it’s just cracks in the pool.”
All the water the pool loses each day must be replaced, and also must be cleaned.
“Once a month I get delivered 35 pails (of chlorine briquettes), sometimes 40,” Baedke said. “We have to bring them (into the mechanical room) one at a time, stack them. It takes a lot of space.”
Baedke recommended that when the aquatic center is built, a liquid chlorine system be used.
“(The chlorine) gets brought in on a truck and they run their hose out and pump it. It’s a lot safer. There’s not a potential for it falling over and starting a fire,” he said.
There also are issues relating to the changing rooms, which were built without ceilings and are thus open to the elements.
“The plumbing obviously needs to be winterized every year, and it’s taken apart and put back together, and none of this is really meant to do that,” Baedke said. “It’s more of a commercial inside use, so every year there are numerous leaks that (we) need to address from that aspect.”
The aquatic center would utilize a self-draining system, which would allow everything to slowly drain in the fall, Baedke said.
“Then stuff wouldn’t need to be taken apart,” he said. “All the fittings on everything just need to be replaced every year, because they dry out when they’re not in use.”
Goblirsch added that he does not think the new facility would have open-air changing rooms.
“It’s an open-air environment here where if it’s windy out, it’s cooler when you’re changing. And we know when it gets to be 90 degrees, it’s hot, too. We like to have a controlled environment,” he said.
Goblirsch also said that the open-air rooms raise a safety issue in terms of inclement weather. If a sudden storm should arise, swimmers would not be able to seek shelter there.
Baedke said that in such situations they now go to the guard house or a nearby church.
It’s not all bad news for the pool, though. Baedke said the water is “very sanitary,” due in part to its three high-grade sand filters, which were installed around 1995.
“We don’t have a lot of chemical buildup (in the water), per se, like a swimming pool at a hotel,” he said.
The pool also has a number of regular activities, including swimming lessons, lap swimming and water exercises.
“We try to program as much as we can here, and get as many people using this facility as possible,” Goblirsch said.
To ensure that those visitors are safe, the pool has 14 lifeguards on staff, with eight of them on-duty at all times.
“They’re all water safety instructor-certified, lifeguard-certified, so we don’t have anybody on staff here that’s not trained with all the new techniques,” said program coordinator Ryan Baedke.
“The American Red Cross is who we go through for our lifeguards,” Goblirsch said. “Sometimes I think people make light of the job of being a lifeguard, but it’s roughly a 30-hour course to become certified.”
Even with the positive things, however, there is only so much longer that the current pool will remain usable.
“We can continue to operate as long as the directives are to operate, but eventually there’s going to come a time when (you have to ask), ‘How much more do you want to lose?’” Goblirsch said. “This pool has served the city well. A pool lifespan, about 40 to 50 years is average, so when you make that decision to move forward, it’s going to be around for a long time.”