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
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
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
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
“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
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