Borough signs up contractor to take on long awaited pool concrete repairs

What was slated to be a month-long pool shutdown stretched to two months, then three, as the borough and Parks and Recreation struggled to find a contractor to make necessary repairs. But after a long winter with no relaxing lap swims or rejuvenating water aerobics sessions, the pool’s dry spell may finally have an end in sight.

The pool has been closed since the last week of November.

The week of March 13, local contractor White Enterprises committed to take on the project which includes concrete repairs.

Parks and Recreation Director Lucy Robinson is cautious about nailing down a specific reopening date after so many postponements, but the pool will likely be available again in late spring. “If it looks like it’s going to be earlier or later, I will absolutely be transparent with the community,” she said. As the contractor gets started on the project, she will pass along any updates she receives.

Materials arrived at the community gym last week.

“We’re incredibly hopeful right now,” she added. “Just little by little, moving forward.”

The contractor will demolish the ceramic tile and concrete around the joint in the pool where the leak is occurring. Then, they will install additional waterproofing — including a water stop and epoxy tile grout, which is more leak-resistant than the current sanded grout — and rebuild the section.

The contractor’s crew will try to work around gym hours as much as possible so that community members can still use the cardio and weight rooms during repairs. However, some closures may be necessary for the safety of guests, since chemical components used for the project can affect the air quality. Robinson will keep patrons updated once she knows how the gym schedule will be affected.

Due in part to the ongoing worker shortage, contracting for pool repairs has been difficult. The borough first put out a request for proposals on the project late last year, but after two rounds of requests with no response, they decided to change their tactics.

A request for proposals — or RFP — asks contractors to submit their plans for a project, including deadlines and price. If more than one contractor submits, the borough can pick the proposal that is most attractive, giving them some power over the price and timeline.

However, since no contractors submitted proposals after the RFP was issued for pool repairs, the borough was granted permission to switch to a “time and materials” contract at the Jan. 24 assembly meeting. Under a time and materials contract, the contractor is paid an hourly rate and the borough buys all the materials.

“To some degree, we’re at the mercy of their schedule,” explained Amber Al-Haddad, the borough’s capital facilities director. The owner — in this case, the borough — “bears a little more risk” than it would under an RFP. But she assured pool users that work would still be completed in a timely, cost-effective manner under the new contract.

“It really is related to just the lack of workforce that we have in the contracting industry in Wrangell these days,” said Al-Haddad. “From what I understand from those contractors who have been primarily our go-to contractors locally, a lot of their workforce is aging out of the industry and they’re just not seeing the younger generation replacing them.”

She said White Enterprises “has been doing business with the borough for many, many years … large and small projects.” Recently, his crew helped replace a water main at the north end of the island, near the airport loop.

“We should see some concrete-cutting here soon,” she said of the pool repair work.

In late summer of last year, staff noticed the pool was losing roughly 3,000 gallons of water per day through a crack in the concrete near its center. If the crack is not addressed, water could leak into the foundation, risking “catastrophic” consequences, according to former Parks and Recreation Director Kate Thomas.

Robinson is eager to get the pool back up and running so that it can continue delivering important safety training and mental and emotional benefits. “We are an island community, so I think it’s pretty important that the kiddos of Wrangell know how to swim, as well as the swim club and the swim team,” she said. Additionally, injured athletes and older Alaskans with joint pain or mobility issues can benefit from the low-impact exercise the swimming provides.

Robinson appreciates community members’ patience with the continued closure. “Please take advantage of the fantastic volunteers who have stepped up to create programming in the interim,” she said. “We do have quite a thick schedule of activities happening.”

The land-based arthritis class, tot gym program, winter workout challenge, archery open gym and more are available to residents who want to get active while the pool is being fixed.


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