Major upgrades needed for Gibson City pool

By ROSS BROWN
bluehavanaross@gmail.com


GIBSON CITY — Gibson City’s public swimming pool is in need of major upgrades in the coming years.

That was the analysis from pool manager Randy Ferguson at a combined meeting of the Gibson City Council’s Parks & Buildings Committee and the Gibson City Pool Board on Thursday night.

Originally constructed in the 1920s, the pool complex has been owned by the city since 1965, when the original single pool was expanded to the current three-pool complex at the southeast corner of Lott Boulevard and 14th Street. The site consists of a 16-foot diving pool, a sloped rectangular pool ranging from 3 to 5 feet deep and a 2-foot baby pool for infants and toddlers.

Alderman Susie Tongate said she called for the meeting after taking several tours with the committee and noticing safety issues with the facility.

“I did feel as we did those tours that there were several things that were safety issues, that I think that if we look at aesthetically or upgrades we could figure something else,” Tongate said.

Managed as a city entity with a five-person board of directors, the pool has an annual budget of around $30,000, according to Ferguson, which it uses for upkeep and repairs.

A fundraising campaign to raise money for a new pool ended earlier this year due to a lack of donations, which Ferguson attributed to a number of other priorities in the city and also a lack of a vision and goal for the project.

“The biggest problem was that there was no timetable for completing the project,” he said. “To me, if there’s not an end goal and a date, nobody’s going to donate anything.”

Long list of needed repairs
With the pool being more than 50 years old, Ferguson told committee members that the concrete has started to disintegrate and that it might not last more than a few years.

“The calcium has been sucked out of the concrete to the point that you can take an ink pen and sculpt your name a quarter of an inch deep in an area with no paint over it,” Ferguson said. “That’s how soft our concrete is.

“To fix it means to replace the whole pool. There’s no way to cut out a section and repair it because our concrete is swelling and starting to deteriorate. With water chemistry, everything has a certain point, and after that you’ll have water seeping through. Concrete’s not made to last an eternity.”

Of particular concern is the baby pool, which has lost water several times in the past. Tongate noted that there is a crack in the concrete and pavement from the edge of the street to the pool, though Ferguson said it has been that way for some time.

“It’s been that way for years,” Ferguson said. “Last year it got worse. I don’t think it’s a safety concern, but we lose water for a while.”

Beyond the pool itself, Ferguson made mention of conditions inside the locker rooms and entrance to the facility, in particular that the pool is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“If we do very many things to the property, we have to make it ADA compliant 100 percent,” Ferguson said. “In other words, if we start knocking out walls or do other stuff, we have to go 100 percent.”

Ferguson said the state’s pool inspector has inspected the city’s pool for more than 20 years and is aware of the fact that many small municipalities do not have the means to fix their pools. Current legislation grandfathers the pool, but future laws might not.

“2010 was the last update to the legislation,” Ferguson said. “It states that you can be grandfathered in as long as you’re compliant with things on that date. Anything you do mechanically to the property, the state engineer has to approve it.”

Ferguson brought up ADA compliance several times throughout the meeting, mentioning how the pool is falling apart.

“The front entrance is not legal, the drop-down to the showers is four inches,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of things that aren’t ADA compliant — toilets, urinals, sinks, entryways, pass-throughs. The partitions between the stalls are all rotted out.

“In the southeast corner of the boys’ bathroom it’s probably a half-inch lower than the drain. Water pools there. You could squeegee it out, but it wouldn’t solve anything.”

Alderman Doug Parsons asked if a liner could be fitted to the bottom of the pool to slow decay. Ferguson said he did not think that would work.

“I don’t think it’s possible,” Ferguson said. “Our pools are overflow pools and not bottom-draining pools. I don’t know how you would seal up all the openings.

“The pool inspector’s not real big on liners because he’s seen what happened to Paxton’s. If you put a liner in, you’re putting a Band-Aid on it, but the concrete underneath is still deteriorating. Eventually the liner fails because of the deterioration underneath,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the pool’s drains are in need of replacement due to age, noting that it could be a safety issue, which he said the state inspector is not lenient on.

“The drains for the pool lines would never need to be redone until they actually fail, unless it’s part of a complete redo,” Ferguson said. “That’s a huge expense, and one that the pool board has been worried about for some time.

With the lengthy list of upgrades and repairs, Ferguson said it might be better to simply build a new entrance and bathrooms at the northeast corner of the property, leaving the current one in place for storage.

“You could dump $100,000 in that tomorrow, and when the inspection happens the guy could say, ‘Here’s a note; you guys have to be ADA compliant. Shut down the pool completely,’” Ferguson said. “It would cost another $100,000 to become fully compliant. The concession stand would have to go away. The drains in the bathroom is about 6 or 7 feet deep. You would need an excavator. You’d have to make all your stalls proper. It’s just better to build a new entrance on the east side and close the current one down.”

Pool management called into question
Ferguson complained at the start of the meeting about the relationship between the pool board and the city, noting that the city hadn’t considered any pool repairs or replacement costs in previous years.

“This is totally different than how it’s always been done,” Ferguson said. “If you guys want to take over and do away with the pool board, that’s one thing. If you guys want to micromanage the pool board, that’s another thing. Every time we get new boards we get new ideas, and I’ve been through all this stuff with so many people and so many boards. This stuff has been this way since before I’ve started, either it’s never been discussed or never been told to do, no money to do.

“I’ve been involved for 26 years, and we’ve never done anything like this.”

Tongate said her goal in organizing the meeting was to hear comments and input about the pool, since major repairs were needed.

“The pool is a city building,” Tongate said. “If there’s something that needs fixed, we should step in and do it.”

Alderman Nelda Jordan said that the city is able to help the pool board with its major projects.

“I think it’s time that the city step in and figure this out,” Jordan said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be straightened around and redone, and we’re willing to help.”

Complete replacement costly
Four years ago, the pool board started a fundraising campaign with the hope of one day building a new pool. The Build Gibson City Pool campaign aimed to raise more than $1 million to fund the cost of an outdoor pool.

The first donation came two decades prior to the fundraiser starting. In 1991, Wally Lamb, owner of Lamb Funeral Home in Gibson City, donated $50,000 upon his death to help build a replacement pool facility. That donation is held in a separate account from the Build GC Pool account, which Alderman Scott Davis said contains around $250,000.

Ferguson said that while the initial fundraising period was successful, it quickly dropped off.

“The board went to the city because they needed the 501(c)3 charity designation to accept donations,” Ferguson said. “Right after they started it, the economy took a dump.”

Because of the huge amount of money necessary to build the new pool, Davis said the board hoped to obtain federal dollars through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Due to state government dysfunction, much of that money was held up in red tape.

“When the pool board came in here, they knew that they weren’t necessarily going to get a million dollars,” Davis said. “They were relying on grants for some of that, but it didn’t transpire.”

Ferguson said a number of other projects have been proposed since the pool fundraiser began, including the Rotary Club’s playground project at the North Park as well as the Lott Boulevard and downtown revitalization projects. Ferguson said it eventually became clear that there wasn’t much interest in donating to the pool fund.

With the city getting behind other worthwhile projects, Ferguson said that it could be beneficial for the city and local organizations to determine which projects to accomplish first, then join together to help accomplish it.

“We have so many great clubs and organizations in this town,” Ferguson said. “The problem is that they’re all trying to do something and go after the same money. Instead of attacking in all different directions, they should piggyback and band together to get one thing done.”

Tongate told Ferguson that she brought up a similar idea with the skatepark committee, which aims to build a skateboarding area at the West Park. Tongate said she told the skatepark committee to come up with a goal and a timetable to get fundraising accomplished.

With the pool fundraiser ending, Ferguson said the city will keep the money, though he said it can only be used for replacement construction and not minor repairs.

“All of the money that we bring in is spent that year, and all the donations we receive is held at bay for a new pool,” Ferguson said. “You really can’t use it for repairs, except if the pool can’t open.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson said the two funds do not contain enough money to save the pool in case a major repair affects the pool’s opening in future years.

“If we had something like Paxton had, we wouldn’t have enough money to fix it,” Ferguson said.

Upcoming projects
In the meantime, Ferguson said he aims to complete two minor projects before the pool opens in May 2018. The first is a replacement of one of the pumps, and the other involves replacing the pergola above the concession stand area.

Ferguson said the facility’s water lines would be next on the list.

“The water lines are a necessity,” Ferguson said. “They’re going to fall apart on us.”

Parsons said his goal would be to address the pool’s safety issues in the short-term.

“I think safety should be our first concern, if we do anything,” Parsons said. “The construction, I think, needs to be our top priority.”

Tongate said she understood the ADA compliance rule and that any small repairs could trigger a major renovation.

“If we raise the flag, then we risk having to go full ADA compliant,” Tongate said. “If not, however, then we’re just letting a city building go to waste.”

Community member Aaron Nettleton told the committee that a new pool should be considered.

“You’re going to have to sit down and make a really tough decision about how much money we’re going to put into getting by when the bigger issue is that the entire property is concrete,” Nettleton said. “I think that needs to be the biggest priority. Ninety percent of the property up there is concrete.”

Ferguson said the high cost and ADA compliance has been a problem for the board, but that repairs and possible replacement are needed soon.

“The fear the board has it that you’d pour money into a repair but then have it all go to waste if the pool got shut down,” Ferguson said. “If you build a new entrance, then the money’s being put to good use.”

“We’re at the end of the life. We’re past the life cycle of concrete. We’re 60 years into this.”
 

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