Pool at Long Meadow Park won’t open this summer

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 07:18 PM

Safety worries will prevent the city from opening one of its three outdoor swimming pools this summer, and likely in the summer of 2015 also, Parks and Recreation Department Director Rhonda Parker says.

The problem affects the pool in Long Meadow Park, which is in North-East Central Durham near Eastway Elementary School and the city’s Eastway Village redevelopment.

Parker told the City Council that key administrators aren’t confident about being able to operate Long Meadow’s pool safely, given a large and persistent leak that dumps water into the pool’s below-ground equipment room.

City “risk managers” -- officials charged with seeing to it the city minimizes liability and safety threats -- are insisting the leak and its resulting electrocution hazards be fixed before the pool opens, she said.

But the General Services Department, in charge of maintenance, hasn’t been able to find or fix the leak in seven years and $135,000 worth of trying and is doubtful of having any better luck this spring.

Officials hope a new assessment of the condition of the city’s pools by a Chapel Hill architecture firm, Szostak Design, will produce an answer.

Its report could be ready by August, but it’ll take months more for officials to plan, fund and implement a fix, Parker said.

She said that because of the pool’s location and popularity, it’s “imperative the community be well informed of this closure” and that officials try to blunt the impact on Long Meadow’s patrons.

The department will stretch the operating hours of outdoor pools at Hillside and Forest Hills parks to take up some of the slack. It’ll also accommodate groups that normally use Long Meadow at the Edison Johnson and I.R. Holmes recreation centers, which have indoor pools.

Council members didn’t quarrel with the decision, save to urge that officials work to get the pool fixed so it can open in the summer of 2015.

“Thanks for this grim news,” Councilwoman Diane Catotti told Parker.

“This is devastating,” added Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden.

The move is one Parker and her subordinates had hinted at last month, during a tour of several parks for a quartet of councilmen who wanted more information about the parks system’s maintenance issues.

One councilman on the tour, Eugene Brown, said then officials would face “a revolt” if they closed Long Meadow’s pool.

The tour – and Parker’s announcement on Thursday – came as the council continues to mull the idea of earmarking a percentage of the city’s property tax rate, perhaps up to the revenue from a cent on the tax rate, for parks upkeep.

A “penny for parks” rate earmark would generate an additional $2.4 million a year for a job the city now spends about $1.7 million on each year.

The idea has split the council, with Catotti and Cole-McFadden among those skeptical of it. On the other side, Councilman Steve Schewel has argued the city needs to improve the standard of upkeep.

“To me this is part and parcel of the situation we’re in with our maintenance of our parks and our trails,” he said Thursday after Parker finished her briefing. “This is a large symptom of a problem that has many smaller symptoms.”

He added that the Long Meadow pool’s issues have been a worry for the city’s Recreation Advisory Commission since he joined the council in 2011, and that Parks for lack of funding has been “putting a Band-Aid on this pool for a long time.”

Long Meadow Park’s overall condition has been a concern for Cole-McFadden, city emails showing she was raising questions about it in March amid the quarrels about the penny-for-parks proposal.

Administrators swapped messages indicating that she’d asked if there was something the department could do about the “standing water” that lingers at Long Meadow after rainy weather.

Parks officials responded that much of Long Meadow is in a floodplain and thus prone to staying wet.