‘I feel their pain’: Keeping pools in working order costs small towns big bucksWritten by Becky Johnson
Canton was one of the first towns in Western North Carolina to sport a swimming pool, something made possible thanks to the booming economy of the mill town and the large population of working middle-class families it gave rise to.
The age of Canton’s pool, dating to the early 1950s, has become all too evident, however, witnessed by the perpetual concrete patches and the lack of modern features. Canton not only has the oldest pool on the block, but is also one of the few that haven’t embarked on a rehab. Even towns with pools built as recently as the 1970s have since done a major renovation and modernization of their pool.
And it isn’t cheap, something pool managers who have been there know all too well.
“I feel their pain,” Jim Brown, the Swain County recreation director, said of Canton’s plight.
• In Swain County, the pool dates to 1977. In 2007, at the 30-year mark, the county launched a series of renovations spanning three years: new filter and pump, new grate-style water return around the pool’s edge, and a vinyl lining.
“We were having the same problem with cracks starting to develop,” said Brown.
The county opted for a slightly cushiony, vinyl liner that feels excellent underfoot compared to plaster or concrete, but that many public pool managers have shied away from fear of an irreparable tear. But Brown said the lining is so tough that is highly unlikely.
Swain County spent $210,000 on the renovations, which also included putting in a stand-alone splash play area.
The N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund contributed $75,000 to the work.
• In Highlands, a wealthy second-home owner — Jane Woodruff, the daughter of Coca-Cola magnate, Robert Woodruff — made a donation of more than $200,000 to pay for a major pool rehabilitation there, saving the town the expense. The pool dates to 1975, and the renovation was done in 1997.
• At Lake Junaluska, while no wealthy benefactors have made specific contributions to the pool, it does benefit from contributions and donations made to the building and grounds fund.
“People love Lake Junaluska and are eager to help us improve and maintain our facilities,” said Howle.
Lake Junaluska has a pool almost as old as Canton’s, dating to the 1950s. The pool, also like Canton’s, is made of concrete rather than the newer plaster, but has held up far better.
“We have a stringent regular maintenance campaign,” Howle said.
The pool was renovated in 1995, including major new concrete work and the addition of a zero-entry ramp.
• The town of Sylva got a grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to fund half the roughly $700,000 overhaul of the pool in 1999. The town faced the similar problem of aging concrete. It was busted up and a new shell poured, expanding the footprint to add extra lap lane and putting in a kiddy-pool with water play features in the process, plus new inner workings like a grate-style water return around the edge of the pool, new filters and pumps.
“It was basically a teenager hang out before. With the kiddy play area, you have more moms and grandparents using the pool,” said Rusty Ellis, the pool manager.
• The pool in Franklin is about 30 years old, and like most newer pools dating to that era, it is built from plaster. It’s a better material for maintenance than concrete: as cracks develop they can be replastered with a thin coat of new plaster. The technique won’t work on pools built of concrete — plaster won’t stick to the concrete. Only concrete can be used to patch concrete, but concrete applied that thinly won’t bond. So the patches are prone to repeated crumbling and cracking in the same place.
“You are basically going to put a Band-Aid on it,” Adams explained of the concrete conundrum.
But with a plaster pool, it can be periodically replastered. The Franklin pool has been replastered three times.
“We are getting pretty close to where we will have to replaster again,” Adams said.
Last year, the county put in new pumps and filters.