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Burst pipe leads to seasonal closure of Outlook swimming pool

Freak incident in the wintertime caused ripple effect that led to the decision by the Town.

OUTLOOK - Many people in Outlook and the surrounding area have been left frustrated and angry after a freak accident from back in January has now led to the unpopular decision by the Town of Outlook to close the Van Raay & Community Swimming Pool facility for the 2024 season.

The pool only opened in 2019 and this upcoming season would've served as the five-year anniversary of the facility.

That decision was made public on Thursday, April 11 after weeks of monitoring and evaluating of the pool's inner workings ever since the incident on January 20, which saw a pipe burst in the heated mechanical room and cause water to flow in all manner of directions at a noticeably high rate.

It's estimated that the incident had gone unnoticed for at least 24 hours before someone noticed water outside of the building. During that timeframe, the nonstop flow of water in all directions entered the crawl spaces under and around the swimming pool, and at one point, actually filled up the pool itself.

Following the cleanup by staff, an investigation revealed that the furnace in the mechanical room had stopped working, which then caused the temperature in the room to plummet in the late-January climate, leading to the water supply in the pipe freezing and causing expansion, which resulted in the burst. Staff had checked the furnace during a cold weather snap at the time and it was found to be working normally.

The entire pool facility is winterized, and it's said that the Town will change their winterization procedures going forward in order to mitigate future damages.

One-time pool manager Chantelle Segovia dives into the water. Photo by Derek Ruttle.

Kevin Trew, the Town's chief administrative officer, shed further light on the level of damages that were done to the pool system.

"In the wintertime, we use the equipment room for storage, and in there was some summer equipment," he said, sitting down with this reporter. "That kind of stuff wasn't damaged. We should be good as far as equipment that was stored there, and that's very minor in this whole picture. There were also some chemicals that were damaged, and again, very minor. At the ground level, there are some different pumps and different storage things, those things are fine. But it's when you go under, there are pumps and a pit in that room, and that filled up with water. There's electrical, there are pumps, and those are toast. The main pump that pumps water into the pool is toast and will be replaced."

Trew noted that the fate of the swimming pool's liner, which is a custom-made design, would tip the scales as to what the immediate future would look like for the aquatic facility.

"The electrical and the piping that was in the crawl space all sat under water, and all of that has been removed as much of it as we could immediately, but it's gone through freeze-thaw cycle," he said. "Then water went underneath the swimming pool, and the liner itself, which is more than a quarter-million dollars, has then stretched, froze and thawed, and water has gone underneath it, and so that's all stretched and needs to be replaced. Whether the liner needed to be replaced or not was one of the key components of deciding whether we'd be able to open this year. If the liner didn't need to be replaced, the other work would've been earth work and replacement of piping, which could've been tight for us as well, but we didn't know how much was going to be damaged from the freeze-thaw cycle that happens from January until about now. The liner was a key piece that we were concerned about, as was insurance, and the companies that replace the liner. We actually had to get a quote for the liner, then a second quote, and it's a custom-made liner, so they're made elsewhere. It's probably around $350,000 for this pool, which is insured!"

The other factor working against the Town as far as knowing what the future would look like has been the weather. With the pipe bursting in the cold climate of January, staff were made to wait until things had thawed out in order to fully assess the picture, and even now, there's still some waiting to be done in some areas of the facility.

"There is some damage to equipment and piping in the crawl space," said Trew. "We still have yet to see how much damage, but it's there. That'll require excavation, and as soon as we're able to, we'll be excavating underneath the pool, as well as under the pathways and walkways. There's some shifting going on, so we'll have to even that out. Also, the pool itself, there's some separation that happened, so that needs to be repaired. We're still not 100% sure how much of the piping will need to be replaced underneath the pool, but early indication is that there's something going on underground because there's some cracking starting to happen with the pool itself. In that case, we'll have to excavate underneath and replace."

Of course, one of the biggest questions since this news broke on social media was how much of a financial burden the pool's closure would be to local taxpayers, including the purchase of new piping, pumps and equipment, notably the pool liner. Trew notes that Outlook ratepayers will not be on the hook, as aside from a $5,000 deductible, everything resulting from the damage is covered by insurance.

The financial estimation of the damages that were done runs a wide berth, landing anywhere from $300,000 to $1.2 million. Trew also shared that the pool operates at a loss, but that's the norm for other towns and communities across the province and beyond.

"Currently, we still have the assessment that we just got in late last week, and it's anywhere from $300,000 to $1.2 million of damages that have been done, and those are just estimations," he said. "All of this is insured, which I can't say enough. We have a $5,000 deductible, and our insurance has been working on this with us. We have had questions regarding whether it's an insurable expense, so we're in a bit of a situation where we hadn't hired any staff for the pool yet, so we don't necessarily have any expenses yet for the pool. We also run the swimming pool at a loss for the Town every year, but we'll be okay from an operations standpoint. In 2023, our pool operations loss was over $100,000 for that operation, but I want to be very clear, it was planned that way and that's what we budgeted for, and that's what we budgeted again for a loss in 2024. It'd be fantastic if we could operate these kind of things at a profit or a break-even, but that's not how we operate public sporting facilities, and it's not just Outlook; many towns, villages and cities operate that way."

Mindful of the losses that can come with operating a pool, the Town has tried to recoup costs from users of the facility so that it's not as much of a burden on taxpayers. Now, with the 2024 season out for everyone, they've been able to pivot and see if staff that were hoping to oversee pool operations can be used elsewhere around the community.

"We had advertised for staffing and we had a lot of people apply, as well as returning staff for this year," said Kevin. "We're in the process of notifying them that we will not be hiring staff for the pool this year. We do have some more programs and more opportunities to hire summer staff for the Town, and Megan Anthony, our community development director, does plan to have conversations with the staff going forward to see if they're interested in working for the Town in some other manner this summer. If we do get some money through the Canada Summer Jobs grant, we plan to pivot with that money and use it for programming with our summer staff through the Kinsmen Park and other programming that we hope to do with the Rec Plex."

The work that lays ahead will see excavation done in order to fully realize the extent of the damage, which may be a sight that's troubling to see for some people, knowing the young age of the facility.

"Pumps that we knew were damaged, we ordered immediately," Trew explained. "The biggest thing is that liner, and of course the piping. Then of course, there's excavation to get to that piping, and when you excavate, you end up damaging as you excavate because there's no other way to get to those damaged pipes. I think the excavation might be a little traumatic for people because we have a pool that's still very young and here we are, we have to dig up, underneath and through the pool."

Trew recognizes that the pool's closure for the coming season feels like a sharp hook to users and the community in general. He says that while he and key town staff have been aware on a regular basis of the direction that things were headed since the incident in January, he knows that such negative news can be painful for the public.

"This is something that's very traumatic for the community," he said. "Myself, town council and the staff and team, we've had time to kind of absorb what the ramifications could be. We had the assessment done immediately after this happened, and it was only speculation at that time that the liner would need to be replaced. So we had to wait until things thawed out, and we just had another assessment last week. We weren't thinking that it was looking great, but we waited for the professional report to come in. From there, my recommendation to Council was that we could not open for this year. We've had that amount of time to reconcile these facts. I recognize that it's something that is near and dear to everybody's hearts. This community has operated without a swimming pool in the past, and it's tugged on everyone's heart strings. I know that people have memories of the old pool in the park, but I also know that people have new memories of this newer one by the rink. I remember in 2020 when I noticed that Outlook was the only pool that was staying open, and there are fun stories where people came to Outlook from other communities and enjoyed themselves here. Even though it's been a young life for this pool, it's already got a story to it. I look forward to being on the other side of this story. We know people are angry and upset, and there are people who are crying, and we'll be giving people the grace, and we ask for it to return."

Betty Peter, Tony Peter, Julie de Moissac, Ashley Austin, and Teresa Weldon were key members of the pool's fundraising committee. Photo by Derek Ruttle.

Outlook mayor Maureen Weiterman, inviting this reporter to her home, says the whole situation is the last thing that anyone wanted to see happen, especially with the summer season just around the corner. She says it's sad to have this happen to a facility that only opened in 2019 after the dedicated work that was carried out by many to realize the vision of a new swimming pool.

"It's horrible," she said. "The last thing anyone wanted, especially after how hard the community worked to raise money for the pool, was to have something like this happen. Who knew it was going to be 50 below, and who knew our furnace was going to go? The thing is that in order to do the job right, and that's what we want to do, is to do the job correctly. Insurance has told us that we're covered, which is good, so we can start as soon as there's a little bit more of a thaw to get to the crawl space to see the full extent of the damage."

As unpopular as the decision may be, Weiterman says the Town took the best course of action in the long run.

"We just thought that it was the only fair thing to do for the community," she said. "We had kids who were relying on us for a job, and we want them to continue being lifeguards because we want all of our people back next year. It was only fair for us to inform them that they won't have a job here this year, so they can go out and get work elsewhere, and for parents with kids in swim lessons, they still have options with Kenaston, Davidson and Rosetown's pools, who haven't had their registrations yet."

Weiterman's comments about there being other options for kids hoping to have swimming lessons seem to carry weight, as after news broke of the Outlook closure, the Kenaston Swimming Pool posted information on its Facebook page about upcoming lessons for the season, with registration opening on May 1.

Maureen says what hurts most about the pool's closure will be the absence of kids and families enjoying themselves on a hot summer's day, as well as not being able to provide the public with one of the town's most-desired amenities of the season.

"What I'm saddest about is all the kids who we're going to disappoint," she said. "That's heartbreaking for me. As well as the parents and grandparents, and people like myself as I'm a lane swimmer. That's the saddest part for me, that we're not going to have that this year. But it'll be there next year, as all the safeguards with regards to repairing it are in place. It's just a bummer and obviously no one wanted this to happen! It's heartbreaking to me that we can't give people what they expected for this summer."