Pool plans: Lebanon to regroup on aquatic needs

By Jennifer Moody
For Lebanon Local

Supporters of the Lebanon Community Pool have regrouped following a failed bond measure in 2022, planning to instead raise donations for the most critically needed repairs.

The fundraising committee of the pool’s board of directors set its first meeting for Nov. 15 to discuss goals and strategies.

No decisions have been made yet, but supporters are talking about placing yard signs and possibly holding a fundraising lap swim competition.

Lorlee Engler, the executive director of the Lebanon Aquatic District, said the board is committed to raising at least $1 million for piping, a new gutter system, and resurfacing inside and outside the basins of both the main and therapy pools.

Lebanon Aquatics District Executive Director Lorlee Engler poses for a photo in front of a colorful mural at the community pool. 2021 file photo

Voters turned down a $20 million request last year from the Lebanon Community School District, some of which would have been used to renovate the pool. The pool is owned by the school district but leased, operated and maintained by the aquatics district.

The aquatics district has received a $25,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation and enough donations to bring its total to about $230,000, but that’s not yet enough to accomplish the most crucial items.

‘We know what all of the various needs are, but we will have to look at breaking up the work into smaller chunks,” Engler said. “One of the issues is that the work is very interconnected.”

Workers have completed some small projects at the pool since its construction in 1967, such as redoing the heating and ventilation system, adding a warm-water therapy pool and taking out an old boiler. But most of the main pool is original, including the cast iron pipes.

“Everyone who’s owned a home realizes if they have cast iron piping from the ‘50s and ‘60s, you’ve got to replace that,” Engler said. “Sooner or later, it’s going to fail. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

A sole, outdated drain at the bottom of the deep end needs to be replaced with two drains. 2021 file photo

The main pool drain is another problem, she said. Right now, there’s just one, which necessitates a federally-mandated “anti entrapment” pump. This type of pump shuts down the whole system if, for instance, an unconscious swimmer were to drift down and block the drain.

It’s a finicky system at best and isn’t improved by the fact that it, too, is aging, Engler said. What makes more sense is to put in a second drain, far enough away from the first that the hypothetical unconscious swimmer couldn’t block both.

“If we have to change all that cast iron piping, at some point it just makes sense to do two unblockable drains,” she said.

The Lebanon pool’s gutter system is another issue. The gutters are meant to help skim the water to remove surface contaminants, but that works only if water is flowing into them. Right now, the pool has settled to the point where the water only flows into the gutters if enough people are in it to raise the water high enough. Also, the settling has happened unevenly, so the gutter system is no longer level.

Yes, Engler said, you can add water, but that’s a small patch on a big problem. It doesn’t stop the sinking of the pool or the tilted gutters.

“It’s a real balancing act to really circulate water and clean it properly,” she said.

Different areas of the pool reveal its tilting effect when water only filters off of one corner. 2021 file photos

The surfaces around the pool and in the restrooms and locker rooms also are a problem, Engler said. They include original concrete, repaired concrete and a failed flooring system that’s almost a decade old. It’s slippery and unsafe, she said, in addition to looking like a patchwork quilt.

Both the main pool and smaller therapy pool have plaster surfaces inside them, something else that wears out over time. Lebanon’s is due for restoration, Engler said.

Additional restrooms aren’t on the immediate list, but Engler would like to put them there. The only ones the pool has are in the locker room for swimmers. None exist for spectators, which means when Lebanon High School holds a swim meet, someone has to rent portable restrooms and put them outside in the fire lane – and swimming is a winter sport.

“Again, something we didn’t think about: Why would we want to close off access to just any old people in the locker room?” Engler said. “Well, now we’ve learned a thing or two.”

The pool also has just one small family changing room, which doesn’t help when multiple families, or caregivers with patients, all need to use it at once.

Laurie Dennis, a board member who volunteered to chair the new fundraising committee, said she can attest to the need for the changing room for her adult son, who has special needs.

“I bring my autistic son swimming there, and I have to help him change his clothes,” she said. “I have to use that one restroom, but there are more people than us. We often would need to wait our turn. This is needed for older people, people in wheelchairs that come with caregivers, or dads bringing young daughters.”

Mark McAllister, chairman of the aquatic district board of directors, acknowledged $1 million isn’t enough, even assuming the committee can raise it. However, he said, doing what can be done now at least buys some time.

“We’re fixing the existing pool the best we can to get another five, 10 years down the road,” he said. “Hopefully in 10 years we can get $20 or 30 million and build a brand new pool.”

The aquatic district, formed in 2000, leases the pool from the Lebanon Community School District for $1 per year and provides free swimming lessons for third-graders and high school PE classes.

Concrete around a vent at the pool shows its ages as it breaks down and creates a hazard in this 2021 file photo.

Taxes garnered by the aquatic district cover daily operations but do not bring in enough for large-scale repair projects. The district has never tried for its own bond measure.

Board members hired Larry Mullins, former CEO of Samaritan Health Services, as a fundraising consultant in October 2019 at a cost of $2,500 per month. Mullins helped bring in the donations the district currently has, but stepped down this past September shortly after new board members were elected.

Mullins said he chose to wrap up his service at that point because his contract was coming to an end and he wanted the district to retain the funds it had been paying him. He said minutes from the Sept. 18 meeting, which indicate he felt the board was not fully committed to the repair project, were misinterpreted. Instead, he said, he meant to issue a challenge to the new board to be fully behind its plans.

“I was asking the question, not saying, ‘I don’t believe you are,’” Mullins said. He added that he plans to continue helping the board fundraise as a volunteer.

Engler said the aquatic district benefited greatly from Mullins’ work.

“I cannot say enough good things about Mr. Mullins. He was a wealth of information and was a huge source of encouragement to me,” she said. “I am hoping that the board will use his momentum and continue where he left off.”

Robert Waterhouse of Lebanon, a frequent lap swimmer, was present at the September meeting and volunteered to join Dennis on the new fundraising committee. Members will be talking about following up on Mullins’ work at the first meeting, he said.

“One of the things we need to do is understand what ground Larry Mullins had already plowed in looking at what he had done, and go after leads he thought had been promising,” Waterhouse said.

Waterhouse said he knows the committee has plenty of work to do. He’s hoping it can convince donors that teaching water safety to children, supporting high school athletes and encouraging the health of adults through lap swims and water therapy is worth their investment.

“There are always people who say, ‘Well, I don’t use that, why should I support that?’” he said. “I would hate to see the community lose that facility.”

Dennis added that it’s one of the few places in town where people can gather in groups out of the weather.

“It’s good for safety and it’s great for people for health, and it’s also a great place where people come to socialize,” she said. “They make friends. They talk. Most of the time in a pool, your head is above water, and a lot of that time, you’re talking to people. That’s what people fall in love with.”