Safety improvements delayed a year at Portland's Riverton pool

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PORTLAND — Federally mandated safety upgrades to the Riverton Community Center pool will be delayed a year because of high project costs.

The city recently learned that it will cost between $40,000 and $60,000 to upgrade two pool drains to comply with federal standards instituted last year. 

The new standards are in response to reports of small children drowning after being caught underwater by the suction of single-drain pools. The federal law, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Act, was enacted in September, requiring that all public pools install protective grates by Dec. 19, 2008, to reduce the potential for children becoming stuck underwater. 

Pool and Aquatic Director Marie Davis said the new regulations are primarily aimed at pools in hotels and spas, which are relatively shallow and typically have single drains. Most municipal pools, like Riverton, are deep and have two drains, reducing the potential for a child being sucked underwater.    

“Yes, we are are safe,” Davis said. “We have done exactly as much as we can at this time.” 

Davis said the law was hastily enacted, leaving many municipal pool operators scrambling not only to come up with the money to make the changes, but also the products. There is also no federal oversight agency for city officials to consult when making changes to ensure they will meet the letter of the law.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Davis said. “Everybody’s scrambling.”

In April, the city hired a consultant to inspect the city’s three municipal pools, at a cost of $8,000. Changes were made at Reiche Elementary School and the Kiwanis Community Pool on Douglass Street to bring them into compliance with the new regulations. Those retrofits cost nearly $20,000. 

The upgrade to the Riverton pool, built in 1976, is more challenging, Davis said, because the drains are where the horizontal and vertical pool walls meet in 13.5 feet of water in the deep end. Crews will have to drain the pool and dig up the pool lining so the drains can be moved and a protective cover installed. 

Davis said funding for the project will be requested in next year’s budget. If approved, the work could be done in August 2010, she said. 

“(The cost) is a worst-case scenario,” Davis said. “You don’t know what you’re getting into when you get down in there.”

The Riverton pool, which serves as many as 400 people a day, was originally going to close for the last two weeks of August while the changes were being made, but may now remain open for at least some of that time. 

Davis said late August is a popular vacation time for staff, and those who are not on vacation will be assigned to the Kiwanis pool, since that pool is only open 10 weeks a year. The remaining staff will attempt to cover at least the early morning swim at Riverton, she said. 

“We’re going to do our best to keep the (Riverton) pool open,” she said. “If we can’t cover the hours, we won’t open the pool.” 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or