By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Pool will likely remain closed until late March to repair long-standing leak


February 1, 2023 | View PDF

Courtesy Parks and Recreation Department

Lane Fitzjarrald grouts tile in the pool floor as part of the extensive repair work that has kept the community facility closed since the end of November.

The community pool may be empty after its Nov. 28 closure, but it is certainly not idle. A flurry of activity is taking place behind the scenes as borough staff and handy community members perform much-needed maintenance and prepare for major repairs.

The pool's reopening date was pushed from Jan. 7 to February, then to the end of March as Parks and Recreation staff got a better sense of the scope of needed repairs. Mayor Patty Gilbert acknowledged the closure's inconvenience at the Jan. 24 assembly meeting, but "if we don't take care of the repair, we're liable to have a bigger problem," she said.

Borough Manager Jeff Good added that if the leak is not fixed, the consequences would be "probably catastrophic."

Staff discovered a leak at the center of the pool, along the seam where the shallow end begins to slope into the deep end. "That inherently creates a little bit of vulnerability because (the concrete) is poured in two separate pieces," said Parks and Recreation Director Kate Thomas. The ground has shifted in the 40 years since the facility's construction, causing cracks in the concrete joints that allow water to escape.

If water infiltrates into the foundation for too long, the pool could "fall into the Earth," she said.

A similar leak shut the pool down from November 2014 to May 2015. Between 7,000 and 10,000 gallons of water were seeping out of the pool daily, destabilizing its foundation. "That's like leaving a garden hose running at full volume all day, 24 hours a day," said Thomas.

At the time, engineers suggested a "plug and patch" approach to resolve the problem, but that repair method only lasts between 5 and 10 years.

This time around, the department has opted for a more durable option - a flexible PVC water stop that could double the lifespan of the repair. "Instead of looking at dealing with this crack in another seven years, we're hoping ... the new recommendation will last 15 to 25 years," said Thomas. "We can't in good conscience short-sight this repair if we know we're going to face the same issue. We have to do it right. The pool is 40 years old, and we have to make sure that we treat it as well as we can. The borough is not in a position to replace the pool."

At the Jan. 24 meeting, the borough assembly unanimously approved transferring $30,000 to Parks and Recreation to solicit pool repair contractors and pay for time and materials. The department has already begun ordering supplies and plans to complete the repairs this spring.

Other essential repairs have also been in progress during the closure. Staff have performed a list of labors, like replacing 10 feet of iron piping, cleaning the surge tank, maintaining the chlorination systems and heat exchanger, grouting 5,000 square feet of tile, and removing and refilling 6,000 pounds of sand filtration media by hand.

Much of the work took place in confined spaces and required respiratory protection.

Lane Fitzjarrald of Parks and Recreation and Duke Mitchell of Capital Facilities performed the majority of the repairs. Jeff Rooney, Lorne Cook, Jeffry Davidson and Tom Gillen assisted with valve replacement; Brian Christian and Andrew Scambler performed pump maintenance; Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad helped procure labor and materials.

"The staff at Wrangell Parks and Recreation are just as eager, if not more, to return this pool to operation," said Thomas. She encouraged patrons to take advantage of the cardio and weight rooms and public programs like wallyball and pickleball while the pool is closed down. "There's really no good time to do this," she added. But "we need to do it and we need to do it right."


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