At 401 feet long and 200 feet wide, Sunlite Pool is considered the largest recirculating swimming vessel in the world. It’s one of the main attractions at Coney Island Park in Cincinnati.
In fall 2008, operators undertook a truly gargantuan task — locating a new drain cover to bring the pre-Depression-era pool into compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
“Replacing that grate cost us $35,000,” says Vic Nolting, president of Coney Island Inc. “It had to
The grate was installed and the job completed in May. And Nolting reports that all the park’s pools and spas are fully up to the requirements outlined in VGB, which mandates various standards to address the risk of suction entrapment.
To bring Sunlite into compliance, Nolting also had to change out the pool’s water return lines, in addition to hiring an engineer, getting the plans certified and having his custom drain cover designed.
He believes the law didn’t have to be applied as broadly as it was.
“If you understand the physics of the flow of water around these drains, you realize they weren’t a danger to anyone,” he says. “In essence, we were fixing an issue that didn’t exist.”
Others agree. Across the country, other historic pools have faced similar issues relating to VGB compliance. The requirements have left some patrons wondering whether they’ve lost an important part of their history, and some operators questioning the wisdom and ultimate effectiveness of the law.
Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, Ga., features the Liberty Bell Pool — a 68-year-old landmark built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and named by FDR himself on a stopover during construction. It’s the only public pool within a 30-mile radius spanning four counties, but in May 2008, officials with the Georgia Parks
System had a decision to make — find $15,000 in the budget for VGBA renovations, or close the pool.
Though seemingly unthinkable, the department simply couldn’t fund the required fixes and despite efforts to collect donations, the Liberty Bell Pool was closed for the year.
“I get why the law was made. Believe me, being a father, I understand,” says Don McGhee, park superintendent. “But what’s interesting is that a lot of people learn to swim at Georgia’s state park pools. And it’s a way to teach kids to love the water.
“But now you’re not getting that,” he adds, they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
The story was much the same in Charlottesville, Va., where, in spite of public protests officials voted to close the nearly 80-year-old McIntire Park Wading Pool last year.
Officials in Columbus, Ohio, did make costly repairs, at the expense of other vital capital improvement projects. The city operates nine public pools, all built around the 1950s and VGBA-required repairs ran the department upwards of $45,000.
“This money came out of the city’s fund for capital expenditures,” says Rick Miller, design manager at the Recreation and Parks Department. “[Those funds] would have gone toward other pool or park improvements, like houses and fixing lifeguard chairs.”
According to pool manager Ed Ahlbrand, it cost The Riviera Club at least $10,000 to retrofit its pool. Opened in 1933, the large outdoor pool contains five drains and a suction gutter — each of which had to
be fitted for new grates. It hosted Olympic swimmers in the 1960s, and through the 1970s it was considered the premier swim club in Indianapolis.
“It’s a crazy law, but there’s really nothing I can do about it,” he says. “All of our drains are gravity-fed, and we’ve never had any problems with people getting sucked in.
“This is just another example of government gone crazy.”