Mary Wayte Pool needs costly repairs

As the city and the school district and the swimming community discuss how to keep the Mary Wayte Pool open in the short run, the talk inevitably turns to the unavoidable truth that the pool needs too much work — and too many dollars to keep it running.

The change in management and potential closure of the pool has brought up many questions. In particular, what kind of role do the city and/or the school district have in providing access to a swimming facility for the community? But for now, that must wait. The task now is to keep the pool running after Jan. 1.

Northwest Center (NWC), the nonprofit concern operating the pool, will end its contract on Dec. 31. The reason is simply the cost of its upkeep, said Chris Sumi, the pool’s manager. One of those costs is the impending need to meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker law, which requires the pool drain be replaced or re-engineered to prevent entrapment. (For background on the law, see page 2.) The cost, which includes engineering, design, inspection and installations expense, also requires the draining of the pool.

How each pool is retrofitted varies from pool to pool, Sumi said. Each design is different.

The engineering and design regarding drain issues for Mary Wayte is complete and a permit has been issued, Sumi said. But the organization is hoping that there may be a way to deal with the issue by closing off the main drain in the pool and using the pool’s gutters for drain requirements — rather than investing in a new drain system. “Installing the new drain is a big deal,” Sumi said. The cost could reach $10,000.

And that is not the only issue. The pool’s boiler needs to be replaced within the next two to five years. NWC estimates a new boiler would cost $60,000.

But none of these items will be done before the NWC ends its agreement to run the pool on Dec. 31.

Beyond the daunting expenses that loom, Sumi and his boss at NWC, Mike Quinn, have said that as much as they would like the pool to remain open, operating it “is not part of our core mission.”

Quinn is a vice president at NWC in charge of manufacturing production and assembly as well as Electronetics LLC, Puget Sound Laundry Services, American Data Guard, and pools. All of these programs are designed primarily to train and employ the disabled. He said “our mission is to serve disabled people. The pool business does not fit that mission.”

Just two janitors who work at the pool here are hired through NWC. It is hoped that the two will continue there after Jan. 1.

Quinn said that the idea from the beginning was that NWC would temporarily take over the operation of Mary Wayte and a handful of other Forward Thrust pools.

“It was to be a temporary, ‘stop gap’ measure,” he said.

NWC has made money on some pools it has run, Quinn said. But some it did not.

“Mary Wayte Pool has not made money,” he said.

Quinn notes that the pool liner, which is worn and has holes in a few places, must be replaced immediately. He estimates that will cost $75,000. The way to make running a pool profitable, he said, is to charge memberships, like the private Island clubs.

King County abandoned pools built with Forward Thrust tax and grants beginning in 2002 when it faced a fiscal crises. The county offered them along with a handful of county parks to cities and even the state. The City of Mercer Island took on the former county park, Luther Burbank Park, at that time, which brought with it its own costs. The city asked voters to help pay for the park through a series of levies.

The city has paid $100,000 each year to help the Northwest Center keep the pool going.

The city has had interest from at least two different groups that would operate the pool over the next one to three years. NWC is committed to helping with the transition.

Quinn, a former competitive swimmer himself, is worried the pool could eventually close. He remembers the pain it caused when the UW cut its swimming program to save money.

On May 1, 2009, the University of Washington’s swimming programs were cut completely to help balance the budget of the athletics department.

The aging UW pool, used by the team, was a large part of the reason.

UW does not have a pool adequate to host competitions. The teams had to compete at the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way.

At the time, UW Athletics Director Scott Woodard said that swimming will almost certainly not be returning in any form. He said it would cost roughly $30 million to build an on-campus pool.

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