Recent problems with chlorine and water temperature levels at two city swimming pools, which have forced the pools to temporarily close, have been addressed and should not be repeated, Parks and Recreation Director James Worsley told Columbus Council earlier this week.
But one swim team coach sent out a notice Wednesday stating that the team’s Thursday morning practice, normally held at Double Churches, would be at the Aquatic Center because of low chlorine levels at the outdoor pool. There were no swimmers at Double Churches at midday Thursday.
Parents of several swimmers have complained recently about either too high or too low levels of chlorine at the Double Churches pool and at the Aquatic Center. Complaints have also been received about temperature problems at the Aquatic Center.
Worsley told councilors Tuesday that he and the city’s aquatics supervisor met with the staffs at both pools and outlined the city’s expectations of their performance. Employees had to sign a form acknowledging that they understood their responsibilities.
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Worsley also ordered that the chlorine levels at both pools be checked every hour and that a daily report of those checks be placed on his desk at the end of each day.
Some employees were disciplined, Worsley said, and some were expected to receive additional training.
But during a recent swim team practice at the Aquatic Center, Rhonda Porter said a coach checked the water and found no chlorine present.
“The people who are responsible for maintaining appropriate levels did not seem concerned,” she said. “The pool was closed, and the pool chemical levels were brought back up to normal standards within six to seven hours.”
At another practice session not long after, chlorine levels were too high, causing swimmers to get dizzy, nauseous and even suffer mild chemical burns from the chlorine, Porter said.
Heather O’Shields’ daughter has swam for four years with the Columbus Hurricanes, which were based in the D.S. Turner YMCA before the Aquatic Center opened.
“We were really, really excited when this new facility was built,” she said. “It’s really a state-of-the-art facility — or at least it’s supposed to be.”
Four times this month practices have either been canceled or swimmers were told to get out of the pool.
“It’s either the chlorine is too high or it’s too low. That’s dangerous,” O’Shields said. “Our coaches carry chlorine testers with them and they test the water themselves to make sure it’s safe.”
O’Shields said she thinks it’s a matter of the staff not being properly trained to handle an indoor competition pool.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “It’s always something.”
Aracelis Williams also has a child who swims with the Hurricanes. She said her experiences at both pools have been disappointing.
“We’ve found mold and mildew on the pool and in the pool at Double Churches,” she said. “It’s dirty and the chlorine is almost non-existent. We’ve gone through it so many times just this summer.”
Williams said her parents experienced problems while attending a recent swim meet at the Aquatic Center. She said in addition to the water in the competition pool being too warm for competitive swimming, the upstairs viewing gallery appeared to have the heat on instead of the air conditioner.
“All these spectators were up there sweltering,” Williams said. “My parents were up there and they heard other people complaining and somebody from out of town turned around and said, ‘You know, for a facility that’s this beautiful, and this state of the art, it really is run very, very badly.’ They said they would not come back to a meet at the center.
“We would like to get a state meet here one day, but under these conditions, it’s not going to happen,” she said.
Worsley said one of the problems at the Aquatic Center was malfunctioning equipment, which he said may have been caused by power surges that the facility experiences periodically. He said he has contacted Georgia Power Co. to look into it.
Worsley said he also has received some complaints about cleanliness at Double Churches, which he told councilors he addressed with the staff there. He directed that along with pool chemical logs, inspection sheets indicating that the facilities have been checked over for cleanliness will also be sent to his office every day.
“We went around to all outdoor pool locations and the indoor locations,” Worsley said. “We want our staff to know and we want the public to know that we’re serious about the problems that have come to our attention, and that we will do everything possible to make sure that expectations are met.”
The Aquatic Center opened in August 2013 with USA Pools serving as the operator. Problems with that company’s performance caused the city to eventually cancel its contract in January and assume operations until another private company could be found to take it back over. The city already operates its other four public pools, Double Churches among them.
Requests for proposals were sent out and bids taken. Currently, a city committee is reviewing the bids and looking into the companies to decide which ones to call in for presentations. That committee will recommend a company to City Manager Isaiah Hugley.
Worsley said he had sent personal letters of apology to coaches and swim team parents concerning the problems at the two pools.
“Dr. Worsley wrote me this long explanation, and really and truly, we don’t want any more long explanations,” Williams said. “We just want it fixed, that’s all.”