After this weekend (which kicks off with a free public swim today at 4:30), Southwest Pool — West Seattle’s only city-run indoor pool — will be closed for 3 1/2 months of work. The sign boils it down to just two words — “capital improvements” — but as we found out in an interview with project manager Garrett Farrell, which we requested after some WSB’ers wondered “why so long,” what’s going is so much more. You won’t see most of the effects — it’s really an overhaul of major components that keep the 1970s-era pool running, like the big old inefficient 30-plus-year-old boiler we got to see during a basement tour (click to watch the short clip):
Lots more about what’s changing, why it’ll take 3 1/2 months, how it’ll affect the adjacent community center (which will close a few times during pool work, starting with a 6/23-6/29 shutdown), and more, in-depth, ahead:
The pool dates back to “Forward Thrust,” which according to seattlepools.org is to thank for seven of the eight indoor pools in Seattle, built between 1970-1978 with money from the initiative that “spent 118 million dollars on improving and building new recreation parks and facilities throughout King County. (It) at the time was the largest public improvement package in the nation.” The same site notes that Southwest Pool opened in 1976 at a cost of $1.36 million; it’s a 25-yard pool holding 200,000 gallons of water. The hot tub next to the pool, says that same site, was added in 1989, with $42,000 raised by the Southwest Advisory Council.
So now, fast-forward 32 years. Time for major maintenance to keep it running – and running more efficiently, according to Farrell. The boiler we showed you in the clip above will be replaced with one that works through hydronics – a system that’s popular in homes too – circulating water and heating it as needed, rather than always heating up a big tankful that may just sit there a while. Then there’s the matter of the air exchanger – which affects air quality too, including chlorine fumes you breathe while swimming:
The new air exchanger will be in a structure adjacent to the building’s main floor – while the exchanger for the locker rooms will be in the basement – and the work will bring a new look to the area immediately west of the Southwest Pool and Community Center front doors – “the biggest visual change” as Farrell put it:
Farrell says Parks hopes that new structure will enable some sort of signage — “with cool large friendly letters” — that “says ‘pool'” more than the current signage which you can barely see behind the out-front plantings we asked him to pose alongside:
Those plants, by the way, are being dug up (and parks garden specialists are salvaging the non-weed ones) – because there’s an electrical vault underneath them, and it has to be replaced so the power system can be upgraded – here’s a little of what we learned about the electrical system back in the basement:
Back to that outdoor vault, aside from being outmoded, it isn’t supposed to be under plants – take a look at this photo – can you see the vault grating? Even while we were standing there, it was hard to pick out:
So there will be work on both sides of the Southwest Pool/Community Center’s entrance (Thistle-facing). As a result, the back entrance (south side) will become the Community Center’s main entrance during the project, with the front desk relocating downstairs to that entrance, and the center itself will close for a total of about four weeks over the course of the work — Farrell says the dates aren’t all set yet, except for the first week, June 23-29. Part of the center-closure time is necessitated by the fact the electrical-vault work will cut power to the building; part is attributable to a smaller component of the pool-related work, replacement of the water piping that serves the restrooms on both sides of the upper lobby. Farrell says he’s hoping a future project will be able to replace other piping in the building too: “The community center piping is NOT funded – we’ll have to come back to do that.”
Toward the end of the work, there are also some items for the pool itself — including a “big UV light” which will provide a “secondary treatment” for the water, reducing the amount of chlorine that has to be used; Farrell says that in other pools where ultraviolet treatment is used, “people like the ‘feel’ of the water.” Parks department Dewey Potter provided this additional information about that new feature:
One main element of the work being done is a UV disinfection system. We already have them at Mounger, Evans, Queen Anne, and Meadowbrook pools. This is a low maintenance water treatment system that uses a high intensity light to “burn off” organic materials, organisms, etc. It also burns off the “combined chlorines” left over when chlorine does its work. The combined chlorines interfere with the work of free chlorine and also produce the chlorine smell that is common in pools.
With the UV system there is very little chlorine smell and the water is very fresh and clear. Swimmers report a noticeable improvement at the pools where we have installed it. Benefits include that fresh water; a reduction in the amount of chlorine we need to use; it kills cryptosporidium, a tough bacteria that is chlorine resistant; low off-gassing of chlorine byproducts that means fresher air; and it allows us to use pool covers, which then save energy (natural gas and electricity) and result in less evaporation, which saves water.
Outside the pool, you might notice a subtle difference in the wall spots where vents are now (look closely beneath the blue section of the back wall in this photo) as part of the ventilation work:
The new ventilation will include “sheeting action across the pool surface to pull away chlorine fumes,” Farrell explains. Bottom line to all this is not only making sure the pool can operate well into the future – since the city isn’t planning any new pool projects currently – but also to increase energy, and therefore cost, efficiency: “We can’t make the building any smarter, but we can make the systems smarter,” Farrell said.
If all goes as planned, the pool will reopen to the public on September 29th. “And that’s still a pretty tight timeframe,” Farrell noted. As for those who wondered “why do this in summer” — he says some of the factors speculated on by observers did indeed come into play, such as the fact Colman Pool in Lincoln Park goes into 7-day-a-week summer operation as of this weekend, and school is out as of Tuesday (the district uses Southwest Pool too). “There’s never a good time to take a pool offline,” he says, while making it clear that if this work isn’t done, this one will face more unexpected and unplanned “offline” time in the future — boiler failures already had become a problem.
WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday is the last day of operation till the work’s over. Once it all begins next week, work starts out front, with the electrical vault and an underground fuel tank involved. Passing by, you’ll see concrete torn up in front of the building. Then the Community Center’s June 23-29 will happen a week later – with other closure dates to be set once the project plan is finalized soon. We’ll keep you posted on those. Meantime, if you read this before 4:30 pm today, don’t forget that free public swim! Also note, West Seattle has privately operated indoor pools, including those at the West Seattle Family YMCA (WSB sponsor) and Allstar Fitness.