After years of problems and complaints, things may soon become more comfortable for swimmers using the Riverside-Brookfield High School swimming pool.
On Oct. 8 the District 208 Board of Education unanimously approved an agreement that, they hope, will fix persistent problems with the pool’s ventilation system. The fan at the pool, which was completed in 2009, has not worked properly, practically from the beginning, resulting in poor air flow and poor air quality in the pool area.
Some parents of swimmers complained their children have suffered respiratory problems as a result of chemicals lingering in the air.
In 2012, the now-defunct Otters Swim Club hired an environmental consulting firm, Environ, to do a study of the air quality at the pool. Environ prepared a report outlining the problems and concluded that the “[A]ir flow patterns would not adequately remove chloramines from the pool surface and deck.” Chloramine is a compound of ammonia and chlorine that can cause respiratory problems, skin problems and eye irritation, according to a paper by the director of aquatics at Penn State University.
“The air-handling device has never really operated properly in at least a couple years,” said school board member Tim Walsh, who along with board member John Keen, make up the superintendent’s advisory committee on facilities.
As part of the agreement, Wight & Co., the architectural firm that designed the approximately $66 million renovation and expansion at RBHS, will install new duct work on the east side of the pool, closer to the pool surface. Currently, the return and exhaust air ducts are located near the ceiling of the natatorium, too far from the surface of the pool, to remove bad air from the pool’s surface.
“This should really enhance the air flow in there,” Walsh said.
Under the agreement approved by the board, Wight will design and install the duct work at no charge. The new exhaust ducts are expected to remove the bad air from the pool area, improving the air quality. Wight will also reimburse approximately $9,500 for work done for the district by Environ. However, the swim parents will not be reimbursed for the cost of original Environ study, RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said.
The district will spend about $5,000 to $7,000 to address repair and service issues with the fan, which apparently has not been operated or serviced properly.
“The district will be responsible for some repair and maintenance items related to the [fan],” Skinkis said in an email. “These are mechanical issues that Wight & Co. do not feel are design-related issues.”
Walsh said at the board meeting that the fan was not properly operated and maintained, as many fixes and changes were tried during the past few years to fix the air-quality issues.
The agreement with Wight came after months of sometimes difficult negotiation involving district lawyers; the school district’s facilities chief, Joel Hatje; Interim Finance Director Tim McGinnis; and Wight.
“I give Kevin and Joel and Tim a lot of credit,” Walsh said. “We had an architect who’s not serving us anymore; we had equipment that’s been here five or six years. … They worked and got Wight to step up and work with Environ to get at least a significant amount of the repair costs and installation.”
Skinkis said that he was satisfied with the deal.
“Overall, the district and legal counsel are pleased with the agreement and the overall outcome,” Skinkis said.
The district dumped Wight as its architectural firm earlier this year and the district’s new architectural firm, DLA, has signed off on the latest fix, Keen said.
Riverside resident Jerry Buttimer, a persistent critic of Wight, also helped bring the problems with pool’s ventilation system to the attention of the school board and administration by sending emails and videos to the board two years ago.
Buttimer said that he was happy that the school board has taken action to address the problem.
“Thank goodness the parents pushed and the board and Dr. Skinkis listened,” Buttimer said.
The new duct work is scheduled to be installed by the end of November.
This story has been updated.