Union University has closed its campus aquatic center indefinitely this week following extensive maintenance issues with its indoor pool.
While administration originally intended for the pool to remain open through February, several major maintenance problems forced it to shut down earlier than expected. One problem was a faulty filtration system.
“The pump that circulates the water in the pool has been failing for quite a while,” said Jonny Wilson, director for campus recreation.
Normally, a motor on the pump spins an impeller, which sucks water in. However, the impeller on the aquatic center’s filtration pump had been damaged but never repaired. The impeller was replaced last week, but the motor was still very weak.
A significant air leak was also detected within the filtration system, which caused a lack of sealing.
“Filtration systems work on suction, and in order to have suction, you basically have to have a vacuum,” Wilson said. “When air was leaking into the system, it was keeping water from remaining sealed throughout the entire system. Air was getting in, and it would form a pocket. When it was hitting the impeller, it would spin in the air, and it wouldn’t suck any of the water out.”
A water leak was also detected in the pool, which was estimated to have lost between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons each day.
“The water loss was so significant,” Wilson said. “We calculated it and it was about an inch a day.”
Wilson and other aquatic center employees aren’t sure where the air and water leaks were or where the water was going, and Wilson says finding those leaks would take much time, effort and money.
The water leak also led to other problems, such as a poor drainage system and dips in the pool deck that prevented water from properly being pushed off the deck.
Union currently does not have a dehumidification system in place in the aquatic center. This led to a condensation buildup.
“It was built in the ‘80’s, kind of before a lot of that was common knowledge,” Wilson said. “If you have a giant body of water that has to stay around 82-84 degrees, especially in the winter time when it’s 20 degrees outside, there’s going to be a lot of condensation buildup.”
Wilson says that there were measures in place to accommodate the absence of a dehumidification system, including two giant circulatory fans. However, the fans could not run at full speed all the time because they would shatter the windows. This led to other problems.
“You had to make sure the windows were open,” Wilson said. “If the windows are open, more cold air gets in, mixing with the hot air, [creating] more condensation. It started to become a real problem.”
Wilson says that the moisture caused by the condensation caused some of the ceiling tiles to start to slip out of their frames and fall into the pool, creating a big mess of tiles and insulation. The condensation also caused a residue buildup on the ventilation systems and walls and messed up the paint.
A conservative estimate of the cost to fix all of the problems is approximately half a million dollars, according to Wilson. Finding the source of the leaks would mean drilling through the pool deck to investigate.
Union’s pool has been in operation since the early 1980’s. However, the number of students who use the pool consistently has been in steady decline in recent years, making the time and money it would take to repair the pool not a wise decision, according to Wilson.
He said that out of six months of the year last year, only five residential students used the pool more than ten times.
“It seemed like a pretty poor move to spend half a million dollars on something that students don’t use very frequently,” he said. “[Shutting it down] seemed to be the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
Bryan Carrier, vice president for student life and dean of students, agrees.
“The pool is a nice thing, but as far as space and cost of running the facility, it is grossly underutilized unfortunately,” he said.
Union is currently contacting its wellness center members who use the aquatic center on a regular basis as a part of their wellness center membership and offering to pro-rate their annual fee.
Alternate arrangements and discounted prices are being explored for those who regularly use the aquatic center. Carrier says that Union is currently working with three different entities to reach an agreement.
Carrier has been exploring a partnership with the Lift, a wellness facility located in Jackson. However, the Lift does not offer separate pool memberships and Union is having trouble procuring discounted pricing for Union members.
Carrier is also exploring the possibility of using the indoor facility at the University of Memphis at Lambuth in Jackson, and researching a partnership with Jackson Sport & Fitness, which has an outdoor pool rather than an indoor pool.
Students involved in curricular courses that utilize the pool, including intermediate and advanced swimming, lifeguard training and scuba classes, have been contacted and given alternate P.E. classes that don’t have a swimming requirement. Some classes that normally utilize the pool have been cancelled because they did not reach the minimum class size.
Scuba class, which is not scheduled to meet until March, will possibly rent another facility, whether it is one of the two indoor facilities or another center in town primarily used for rehab.
In the past, outside swim clubs have periodically rented the Union aquatic center for meets and pool parties have taken place in the facility, but Union stopped taking bookings for pool parties and events several months ago and those who were already booked for this month have been notified of the closure.
In the past, students have had to be able to swim before they could graduate. That requirement has now been waived.
Lifeguards and other student workers in the aquatic center have been contacted and have been offered alternate employment, primarily in campus recreation and intramurals.
Union is currently working with Jackson Energy Authority to drain the pool and undergoing feasibility and funding studies to determine the best use for the facility.
Carrier is hopeful about the possibilities for the facility in the future.
“It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, I think we’re excited,” Carrier said. “We haven’t made any decisions about what happens to that facility. A lot of that is dependent upon funding and need, but it’s a pretty prime location and can be used for several different things. We’re excited to see about those possibilities as well.”