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Actions during VHS construction pose a problem for the pool

With just weeks before summer arrives, park and school district officials are scrambling to solve a problem at the Vashon Pool caused by a mix-up during the construction of the new high school.

Park district staff say they believe the pool will open Memorial Day Weekend, as is tradition, but remedying the problem will require both short- and long-term solutions. While exact cost figures are not in yet, the solutions are not expected to be cheap.

“This is an emergency and is unbudgeted,” said Elaine Ott, the executive director of the Vashon Park District.

Since it opened in the 1970s, the Vashon Pool and its filtration system drained into the high school’s septic field. However, current state regulations now forbid that from happening, a piece of information that was lost in the staff changes at the park district in recent years, Ott said. Complicating the picture is that unbeknownst to the park district, the sewer line that ran from the pool was capped during the high school construction last fall and was only discovered last month when park district staff began preparing the pool for the summer.

Explaining the history of the situation, Ott said that in 2012, the park district’s maintenance manager at the time incorrectly informed the school district that the pool water did not drain to the school’s septic field but instead went to a stormwater system. That same year parties involved signed an agreement stating that pool water would not go into the school district’s new septic field. While both park district employees who signed that agreement are no longer with the district, Eric Gill, the school district’s capital project’s manager, said the school district had to have this agreement on file in order to build a new septic system at the high school. Chlorine, he added, would be detrimental to the new system.

During the school’s construction, Ott said, school distict officials could not locate correct as-built drawings for the pool and relied on the park district information they had been given when they encountered the sewer pipe. In this case, Gill said, those involved thought they were capping and abandoning an old, unused line.

“You do the best you can to gather the available documentation and move forward,” he said.

Ott, however, said that if they had confirmed the informaton with the park district before capping the pipe, the district would have had considerably more time to come up with a solution and could have possibly avoided the short-term costs associated with opening on time.

“I believe there was a failure of communication here,” she said.

Since the problem came to light during last month’s work at the pool, pool manager Scott Bonney has been working on a short-term solution, which is expected to cost up to $25,000; Gill has been working with governmental regulatory agencies to arrive at a long-term solution, and Ott and school district Superintendent Michael Soltman have been communicating about the problem.

In an interview last week, Soltman said he believes he, Ott and representatives from both boards will meet soon to work out a financial proposal.

“We’re all committed to making sure the pool is open, and it might result in cost sharing somehow,” he said.

At its most recent board meeting, park district commissioners voted to approve up to $25,000 to get the pool open for the summer.

Soltman said that currently the most realistic long-term solution is an engineered drainage pond. He noted that Vashon’s situation is unusual because most pools connect to a sewer system, which is not an option on Vashon because the sewer system does not extend that far south.

“It’s stretching the Department of Ecology, the health department and King County to come up with solutions that will work,” he said.

Bonney said that the issue of what to do with pool drainage is most pronounced when the pool is being prepared to open. Because a lot of organic material collects in the pool during winter months and then gets stuck in the filters, they must be repeatedly backwashed and hosed off. That effluent then goes to three 750-gallon storage tanks that used to drain to the school’s septic system. That process typically goes on for almost a week and a half in the pre-season, he said, but drops to about once a week under normal use. The tanks typically fill up after just four backwashes, making adequate drainage essential.

Bonney, who is a licensed aquatic facility operator, said research for a short-term solution led him to a process that has worked well so far and involved adding non-toxic, pool-approved chemicals to the water. The chemicals reduced the amount of solid waste and have greatly reduced the number of backwashes needed. The park district also hired a company from off-island to empty the tanks and take the waste off the island. It has already transported 5,000 gallons of water and sediment.

Bonney, who is also employed by the school district as a tutor, said no one is interested in placing blame, but is focused on solutions.

“It’s a problem; it gets solved. That is the bottom line,” he said.

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