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Audit finds Westminster pool is leaking, recommends upgrades ranging from patching to overhaul

An audit outlined options for upgrades at the Westminster Municipal Pool complex ranged from basic repairs to more elaborate plans with a new splash pad and lap pool.
An audit outlined options for upgrades at the Westminster Municipal Pool complex ranged from basic repairs to more elaborate plans with a new splash pad and lap pool. (Courtesy photo)

An audit found that the Westminster Municipal Pool’s shell is leaking water and that upgrades need to be made to the filtration system’s capacity.

Options for upgrades outlined in the report ranged from basic repairs to more elaborate plans with a new splash pad and lap pool.

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The Westminster Mayor and Common Council sought outside professionals from Maryland-based Lothorian LLC to audit the pool complex at 325 Royer Road. The Westminster Recreation and Parks Department worked with them to provide information about the complex.

“We were asked to obviously point out problems, make suggestions about what repairs had to happen on a priority basis, and also take a longer view of what’s possible for this facility over time,” said Mark J. Herbkersman, architect, project lead and client liaison for the audit team.

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Councilwoman Ann Thomas Gilbert said there were some immediate concerns brought up by the audit that the city would need to address, probably within a year or so.

Cracks in the pool’s shell are one of the main concerns brought up in the audit, she said. There is no issue as far as the safety of the citizens using the pool, she said, but it is leaking water.

As for a long term plan? She said it was early in the process.

“You sit down and you brainstorm all the possibilities,” she said.

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The city is going to be digging into the audit over time, and there’s no time peg for when they will chose whether to take on a large-scale upgrade project, council members said.

The report from the audit, which covers more than 100 pages, is available to the public alongside the agenda from the Aug. 26 council meeting. The agenda is available at westminstermd.gov or in person at the city’s administrative building.

“Our overriding goal is to offer a safe and fun aquatic experience for our residents. And so what’s the best way to continue to do that for the future?” Council President Gregory Pecoraro said when reached by the Times after the meeting.

He said the pool is a popular service that the city provides and city staff are doing a great job managing the pool, as well as maximizing the use of a facility that was not built for its current use.

The municipal pool complex is about 35 years old, built in the ’80s to serve the residential community nearby. The city later acquired it and opened it to wider membership.

There is one larger pool and a smaller wading pool or baby pool. The property has seasonal use structures and a community building, which was added in 1994. The community building is used for events throughout the year even when the pool is closed, including voting, community meetings, private party rentals and city staff functions. Guests enter the parking lot from Stacey Lee Drive.

“The demand of the pool now, based upon users and programmatic applications, exceeds its original design,” Herbkersman said.

Bob Thompson, president and founder of Lothorian, said during the presentation that an upgrade project for the facility would allow the city to justify a raise in pool rates.

Pecoraro said later that Westminster wouldn’t be looking to fund a renovation by raising prices. The city tries to set fees based on operating costs of recreation facilities.

“Coming before the mayor and council to talk about improvements we want to make as a municipal pool is very different than going to the, you know, country club pool and saying … 'Just raise your dues. You can pay for this.’ Municipal governments don’t operate that way," he said. "Our goal is to provide a public good to our citizens at the most economical price that we can charge them.”

Renderings by Lothorian LLC depict the most ambitious option for possible upgrades to the Westminster Municipal Pool complex.
Renderings by Lothorian LLC depict the most ambitious option for possible upgrades to the Westminster Municipal Pool complex. (Courtesy Photo / Lothorian)

Noted issues

The audit report goes through each section of the pool complex, noting what is working, what is not and what does not meet code. Recommendations for fixing issues are rated by urgency.

The audit found that the pool is leaking through cracks in its shell, causing it to lose “basically 80% to 90% of its water every year,” Thompson said. Fixing the shell, he said, would be a short-term, easy fix that would save money lost on water as well as chemicals used to treat it.

The mechanical systems that serve the pool, however, pose a more complex problem, he said, and are “not even close to complying with code.”

The filtration system is pumping beyond its capacity, according to the report. In the worst case, a filter could become pressurized from over-pumping and explode.

Updating this system is tougher because the the pool’s pump room does not have the space to add or upgrade the equipment and increase capacity. Thompson added that Maryland will likely pass even stricter codes for filtration in the next 18 months.

Within the space of the pump room, chlorine stored close to the main electrical panel in the pump room is vaporizing and causing corrosion. The auditors did not find the ventilation fan to be functional, according to the report.

The auditors also found the deck around the wading pool to be in need of maintenance for trip hazards, and Lothorian recommended removal and replacement.

Another problem is that water from the pool is being flushed into the stormwater pond located next to it. Thompson said.

“In fairness, that pond is full of algae. So this is one of those break points for me because I have a lot of old facilities that are doing this and they’re discharging to those places," he said. "It’s not really hurting the environment, it’s just that the actual code reads we’re not allowed to discharge to the waters of the state.”

Councilman Tony Chiavacci asked whether the water is safe to swim in. Thompson said it is. Abby Gruber, director of the Westminster City Recreation Department, said the water is tested hourly and that the health department conducts an annual inspection plus drop-ins throughout the summer.

Chiavacci replied, “There’s a difference between meeting the code and all that and being unsafe that people shouldn’t be swimming. Because if that’s the case, we need to shut the pool down right this minute."

Herbkersman spoke about the building on the complex, calling it, “by and large operational,” though it shows its age. It is generally accessible but not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act in many details, he said.

There is an accessible bathroom in the community building and a ramp from the parking lot, but there are no technically compliant toilets in the men’s or women’s bathrooms, and other details do not meet the code, he said.

Options

The cheapest proposed option that Lothorian presented, at about $30,000, would patch the cracks in the pool shell. No warranty would be included.

Other proposed options include renovating the men’s and women’s locker rooms with accessible toilets and showers, adding a new filtration room with more space and building a “pool within a pool” as a solution to the cracked pool shell. Replacing the wading pool with a splash pad was another suggestion.

The most ambitious vision involved renovation of the existing pool, a new splash pad and a second “learning pool,” plus renovations to the existing building.

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The absolute soonest the city could plan a large-scale project would be for the fiscal year 2021 budget, but Gilbert said that it would likely be a longer decision process.

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She is a member of the council’s Recreation and Parks Committee, which had been dormant and hopes to begin meeting again in September, she said. The pool complex and the Wakefield Valley property are two topics they plan to dig into.

Pecoraro said the council’s Finance Committee will also look carefully at the budget impacts of a pool project. Looking for grant funding will be a priority.

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