Safety concerns bring council to close Helper pool for season
|Helper City Councilman Bob Farrell demonstrates how the supports on dividers in the locker room at the Helper pool have rusted away, making the metal partitions unstable and dangerous.|
Those who want to go swimming in a public pool in Carbon County this summer will have only one choice: the Desert Wave Pool in Price. That's because on Thursday night the Helper City Council decided to close the pool in Helper Park indefinitely.
"This is not a matter of dollars and cents," said Helper Councilman Bob Farrell, whose responsibility includes the venue. "But it is a matter of safety. The pool is not fit to open, in fact it is a disgusting disgrace. It has just been neglected to the point where it is unsafe to let people swim there."
Farrell said he met with the pool personnel a couple of weeks ago and toured the facility. That's when he found the problems and began to consider what to do.
During the meeting he showed a series of photographs he had taken of various problems at the pool to the other council members. He said he had also called in the Southeastern Utah Health Department to look at the facility and they found it to be lacking in many ways as well.
"I think the main thing is that we don't want people to get hurt," stated Farrell. "For instance, the plastic strips over the deck drains were broken during a hail storm we had two summers ago. I could just see little kids toes getting caught in the holes in those strips."
Councilman Chuck Buchanan, however, did point out that it was about dollars and cents, in two different ways.
"Even if it was only $20,000 to fix the pool facilities we do not have the dollars to take care of it," he stated after the council was roundly criticized earlier in the meeting for their plans to raise utility rates and an inference by some that taxes may need to be raised to keep the city afloat. "But I am even more concerned about the liability the safety problems could cause for us."
Farrell's list of inadequacies at the pool is long. That list includes many problems, some of which include worn out facilities and equipment while others have to do with poor maintenance over the years. Some of the problems listed include:
An overflow ridge that was put on the pool in the early 1990's to increase the pools depth is beginning to deteriorate, exposing reebar that supports it to the open air.
A worn out filter system.
Broken pipes under the pool that continually leak, causing people who know the pool to call the space under it "the moat."
The broken drain strips on the pool deck.
Rotted out metal dividers in the locker rooms.
A broken lifeguard station.
Concrete falling into the pool from the deteriorating edges of the pool.
Damaged walls, inside and outside the facility, largely due to weather and the wet conditions.
The 57 year old facility had a major revamp through the use of Community Impact Board (CIB) money in the late 1980's and was rededicated, according to the plaque on the front of the facility, in 1990. Farrell recently had a local contractor come to the site to give him a rough estimate of what it would cost to get the facility into working order. The estimate came in at $40,000 to $50,000.
"One girl told me that when she swam there she wore tennis shoes to walk around the deck to keep from cutting her feet," said Farrell. "I think the horse has died, and it makes no sense to throw good money after bad, particularly money we don't have."
However, there were many people in the packed chambers in the Helper Auditorium that questioned the recommendation. Some understood the reason for Farrell's position, but question whether the pool could make it through another year, while plans could be made for building a new pool or revamping the old one.
"I agree the pool needs to be replaced," said resident Pam Juliano. "But I wonder if some of the things could be fixed and we could get through the summer with it?"
Jody Mascaro, who has managed the pool for 10 years also spoke about the problems that have been associated with the facility.
"I have to thank Bob for meeting with us at the pool," she stated. "Since I have worked here, there has not been a councilman who has seemed to care about the pool. I never had any support, but I didn't feel like it was my job to come and complain. However, I want everyone to know that we have never had a complaint from the health department."
Farrell followed up Mascaro's comments by saying that when the health department came out to look at the facility that they told him that tests for bacterioriology from last summer showed the pool passed every time.
One citizen wondered about getting a new pool built and Farrell told them that with the pool closing for safety reasons, the chances were good that the CIB may help with money for a new facility.
However, Mayor Joe Bonacci worried that citizens might misconstrue the process of getting money from the CIB.
"Please understand our predicament," he said. "They are not just going to give us the money. They almost always require a matching sum."
Farrell explained that he had talked with some members of the Restaurant Tax Board and that there is a possibility some money could come from that group, and that money could be used for a match for CIB funds.
At that point a motion was made to close the pool, and it passed 3-2, but that didn't end the debate.
A number of parents complained about not having anything for kids to do during the summer in Helper. Some stated that the city is concerned about getting business into Helper, but then they do things like close the pool and people will have to take their money to Price and support the pool there.
"Look, we just get chastised for spending too much money," stated Bonacci. "We live a sue happy society and the pools condition could cause us liability problems. How many here would be willing to support a tax increase to build a new pool?"
A number of citizens raised their hands, but a number also grumbled about the idea of any more taxes.
The discussion, however, continued about liability issues. One woman said she would be willing to sign a disclaimer for her kids, holding the city harmless in case they were injured. But Helper city attorney Gene Strate pointed out that no one can sign their childrens rights away.
The debate eventually faded away into talking about business in the town and how to get the money to improve the facilities and the infrastructure of the community.
"The question we have to ask about this is why we didn't do something in the past to keep this from happening," said Councilman Bob Welch as the discussion ended. "We are just starting to see the light on what we need to do in this town."