McIntire again: City tosses babies with bath water

The Eureka 26" x 26"–- coupled with a vacuum release–- appears to meet new federal standards and prevent youthful waders from stubbing toes.

If several top city officials had gotten their way, one of Charlottesville's popular summertime attractions would have closed. Acting Parks director Brian Daly and City Councilor David Brown agreed there's just no safe way to operate the McIntire Park kiddie pool without incurring costs that could rise, according to a story in the Daily Progress, as high as $20,000. But would the pricetag really soar so high?

"That seems like a bit much," says pool compliance expert Dave Boylen, who conducted a safety seminar for the Blue Ridge Apartment Council March 25, the day the Progress article appeared.

According to the Progress, parks boss Daly found himself unable to obtain a drain cover that meets new federal safety standards without creating a tripping hazard. However, in a couple of minutes of Googling, a reporter found multiple dealers offering several compliant retrofits, including a 26" x 26" cover from Eureka Manufacturing.

Not only does the sleek, stainless-steel device offer sufficient span to cover the McIntire wading pool's existing 16" x 17" main drain, it appears tapered at all four sides to limit tripping and to prevent tiny toes from getting stubbed. And it costs as little as $928.

Another factor the acting Parks chief, who declined to be interviewed by the Hook, allegedly cites to explain the pricey path to code compliance, is a federal requirement to add an additional safety system when there's just a single drain. Such safety systems can include a vacuum release which detects when there's a blockage–- such as a human body.

Again, a moment of Googling finds several readily available vacuum releases, including the Hayward Stratum model, which sells for $995. Even the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which heads up enforcement and educational efforts, suggests that making swimming safer shouldn't necessarily drain municipal coffers.

"We have personally worked with thousands of pool and spa owners, operating companies, service engineers, design professionals, manufacturers, and state and local health officials, says Commission spokesperson Scott Wolfson. "The prices are coming way down."

Indeed, after the Hook began seeking answers March 25, City spokesperson Ric Barrick released a budget showing prices even better than the Hook could find–- along with thousands of dollars in labor charges that raised the eyebrows of at least one pool contractor who's seen the numbers.

"I am questioning it," says 36-year pool technician Fred von Lewinski of Charlottesville Aquatics. "Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money."

Charlottesville is not a city afraid to spend money on water amenities. In 1998, it renovated Washington Park with a new pool; and earlier this year, it broke ground on a $3.8 million water-centric overhaul of Meade Park. City leaders may feel that quality trumps quantity.

But there's another problem ostensibly threatening the little pool at McIntire. According to his statements to the Progress, City Councilor and transportation expert Satyendra Huja was alleging that the planned interchange for the under-construction Meadowcreek Parkway is incompatible with the little pool. But does this hold water?

According to an overlay of the approved interchange design released last summer by planners, the new interchange appears to leave untouched not only the pool but also a land buffer and even access to the existing parking lot.

Contacted for this article, Huja clarifies that part of the interchange would probably require demolition of the pool house.

Clearly, a pool suffers without a refuge for its lifeguards (and a place for them to sell water diapers). However, the final footprint of the interchange isn't set, and construction on the interchange isn't scheduled to begin until summer 2010.

"It's just one more thing that makes no sense," says Bob Fenwick, who recently rallied support to turn back a City effort to push softball out of the McIntire Park. "They will use any reason to do what they're going to do."

One controversial City expenditure is $7.5 million for rebricking the pedestrian mall even though some citizens suggested simply re-mortaring. Is the City that once defended a decision to spend $20,000 to rent a Christmas tree really unwilling to pay that amount to save a pool that gets 20-30 daily paying customers during its season?

"If they wanted to keep it open, they could find that money in a heartbeat," says Fenwick, whose two sons cooled off there as children. "For some reason, they are trying to dismember McIntire Park."

Besides its convenient central location that attracts on-the-go moms and the toddlers, summer in eastern McIntire Park offers an adjacent 10-swing playground and a nine-hole, sand-green golf course. However, the mayor has already announced he would like to see the golf replaced with a botanical garden. But now he's saying he might want to save the pool and has put it on the agenda for the council meeting on Monday, April 6.

One thing nobody's suggesting is trying to skirt the new federal rules, which arose after a spate of sometimes-grisly swimming accidents. Between 1999 and 2007, there were 74 reported entrapments–- including the 2002 drowning of a five-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Act took effect December 19, 2008 to prevent a repeat. Even when the victims–- typically children between the ages of 5 and 9– survive, they can be disemboweled or eviscerated by a pool drain's powerful suction.

But can't safety repairs come cheaper? Pool expert Boylen, the retail sales manager for Valley Pool & Spa, says he recently oversaw a safety overhaul in New Market that required cutting concrete and installing redundant systems– and still the repairs cost less than $10,000.

Boylen says his company has recently performed compliance inspections–- typically costing $200 to $900–- for such pool-happy customers as the Residence Inn and Keswick Hall. And he already has a relationship selling some chemicals to the City.

"If they want a second opinion," says Boylen, "that's certainly something we could do."

His colleague at Charlottesville Aquatics, von Lewinski, says he'll do it for free.


I miss the good ole days. When a city department head would appear in a news release clean shaven, in a coat and tie, and would actually tell the truth.

I felt all along that the $20,000 estimate to upgrade the wading pool was about as dumb as the $64,000 toilet seats the federal government bought for airplanes a few years back.

This article fails to address important circumstances which have played into the City's decision to close this pool. First and foremost, the City is renovating several pools, Meade Park (mentioned in article), Forest Hills Park (a more efficient spray park), and Smith pool. These renovations will more than offset the loss of McIntyre's small, and difficult to access wading pool. Given the better location to city residents of these other pools, it seems very logical to expend public resources to fix them, rather than McIntire.

Once these renovations are complete, Charlottesville will have truly world class swimming options for its residents at incredibly affordable prices. Suggesting that failing to fix a poorly located, and significantly run down facility equates to mismanagement is so far off base, as to be laughable. I applaud the Parks department's management and leadership and look forward to swimming at City pools this summer.

Whether you agree or disagree that the pool should be closed what I hope we can all agree on is that the decision should be based on factually accurate data. Hawes Spencer has gone after the facts and in doing so has provided the community with information needed to make an informed decision.

I for one am grateful to have a news organization in Charlottesville that digs for the facts and is willing to question the party line. The top state news award recently presented to the Hook for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service was well deserved for just this type of investigative reporting.

I agree factually accurate data is essential. However, consideration of all of the circumstances and factors in play is also essential.

Are we really to believe that there is some grand conspiracy around every corner in Charlottesville. As if we're all being blindly taken advantage by some faceless government entity....I don't buy it, but it sure seems that what you want us to believe.

Beans, this wading pool issue is just one more example of a few people in city management making decisions without ANY input from the citizens at all. I like to think the pool belongs to the city taxpayers and residents, not to the few city employees who drive in to work from Albemarle County or other surrounding counties amking all these decisions.

Wh is the wading pool so hard to access?

And if you have taken a gook look at the new Meade Avenue pool, it sure does look awful small. I foresee crowds that most parents with small toddlers will try to avoid at all costs.

Maybe not a grand conspiracy, but sure seems the "facts" given by staff are often concocted for a predetermined outcome.

Bring on the fact checkers !

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to point out bad decisions. But, if one were a conspiracy theorist, one would try to put all the pieces together. The softball field brouhaha, the botanical gardens boondoggle and now the wading pool imbroglio.

It certainly appears that the city government has designs on McIntire park. It would be helpful if the public knew what those designs were so that an open and honest discussion could occur.

If the golf course, shelters, wading pool/playground amd softball fields are removed, what else is left? A parking lot. Obviously, the result is to redesign McIntire Park.
If large areas in the city was re-zoned in 2003, obviously the result would be a re-design of our commercial districts in the city.
If the transit system is riding people around without charging fares and the city and county fathers have all approved of a transit authority to expand bus service throughout the urban rihg, the result will be a much larger number of people will be using the transit system
It all fits in with the City Hall's vision of re-designing of Charlottesville in the new urbanist mode championed by former Mayor Maurice Cox. Of course, all of this was to be done under the theme of "A world class city." Obviously, many residents are resisting the idea. Sometimes it pays to connect the dots by looking at the results rather than to listen to the spin. As rate payer brought up, we have a water supply concept that the spin was proven fallacious when the dredging cost estimates were reduced by as much as 90% and the project cost went from $142M to over $200M and is still climbing, it's time to look at the results to connect the dots rather than to listen to the spin. One thing is certain, either we've got officials asleep at the helm or are not running things in a competent manner.

"Grand conspiracy", hah, what an inflammatory way to disparage another's differing opinion. As pointed out before, 'stupid' is enough, but how about 'not representing public opinion'? Pointing out the availability of over-priced new parks created at huge taxpayer expense is not an explanation for abandoning existing affordable and available infrastructure. That logic would have us close down Rio Road due to it's age (curves are bad you know), not to mention the antiquated sand-green golf course. In times like this, we should more easily recall the concepts of value, a dollar saved is a dollar earned, waste not want not. The City, in this instance, as in so many others (water supply solutions), ignores value for the grandiose. Seduction by what is new and improved at any cost is a lot of what got us into the current economic duress. Hopefully that is the silver lining of all the suffering now occurring. Moderation and thrift seem a difficult lesson for some to learn, but one that is necessary.

and what leads you to believe this ---they have simply printed the staff press release

It's a rounding error in the City Budget.

Clearly, the bigger issue is the City's unspoken plan to close the pool and golf course both and re-use the land. Maybe the City plans to sell off the land as prime real estate for development. Or to give UVa a new parking lot for football game overflow. One can only imagine.....

I would really love to go to a City Council meeting and see a the room filled with pitchfork wielding fellow citizens asking just what the hell is up with the way this city is being run. It's pretty clear it's time for a revolt. Gary O'Connell is the one I'd especially like to see in tar and feathers, but there are a few others who need it too.

Good job Hawes. Thanks for looking into this and uncovering the truth.

Does anyone see a pattern here? Instead of maintaining the pools they have build new ones. Instead of maintaining the bricks on the Mall replace them. Instead of keeping the parkland they have replace it. Instead of maintaining the reservoirs let them fill with silt and replace them. Grand conspiracy or fact ?

Pools have lifespans just like any other type of infrastructure.

Using that logic instead of painting my house or fixing the leaky roof I should tear it down and build a new one.

how much will public opinion about saving this pool change when someone is seriously injured or killed trying to pull out of that ridiculous parking area?

Jay, it's no worse than pulling out of Burnley Moran school onto the bypass. Maybe we should close the school and tear it down too.

based on the articles reference of 20-30 visitors a day and some quick math it appears to cost 10 dollars per person per visit.

That a lot of money. Maybe a day pass at ACAC would be cheaper.

By the way... when I was there in 1971 I peed in it.

I don't think anybody would believe a 20-30 visitors per day fairy tale.

How come we're not talking about pool usage in terms of Residents vs. Non-Residents. I am sure there are a handful of City residents (like myself) who will miss taking an energetic toddler over to McIntire BUT I am even more sure of the fact that McIntire Wading Pool (like MANY other City amenities) are constantly bombarded by Albemarle Co folks. Maybe the Parks & Rec. Dept got smart and to send the resources to where it the City @ Meade, @ Forest Hills, and @ Smith, where City residents will see a great benefit.

"Are we really to believe that there is some grand conspiracy around every corner in Charlottesville. As if we’re all being blindly taken advantage by some faceless government entity."

No, I'd argue that incompetence and stupidity play a much greater role. That's still a pretty sad state of affairs. Why do our elected officials have such a problem coming up with accurate information on important issues?

Why shouldn't county folks use city amenities? Isn't that why the county pays the city money? Anyone that argues that the city shouldn't accommodate county taxpayers should also argue that the city shouldn't take county $$$.

I'm not sure how McIntire's wading pool is any more inconveniently located than a neighborhood pool that is off the beaten path and to get to which one must drive down residential streets that are not necessarily familiar (and at which there is less parking). When I lived in the city, I took my toddler to McIntire pool *because* it was right off the bypass and I knew where it was. I knew there were neighborhood pools elsewhere in the city, but I wasn't familiar with the routes through those neighborhoods to get to them. I also felt a little bit like those pools served the specific neighborhoods, while McIntire's felt more "public." It's true that pulling out of the parking lot (which also serves the golf course, right?) is tricky, but that seems like a suddenly-invented justification for closing the pool.

My kids are bigger now, but I feel like that pool is a real boon for parents of toddlers and also for low-income families. It's incredibly cheap, there are rarely rowdy bigger kids that knock over the toddlers, and there's the playground nearby if the kids get bored with swimming. On warm summer days (in Charlottesville, that's most summer days), that place is hopping with families.

Mostly, though, the thing about this story that irritates me is that it really sounds like City officials threw out this $20,000 repair figure hoping that it would scare people into agreeing that the pool had to go. Beans talks about considering all the circumstances and factors, but I think City staff/officials had the chance to foreground those circumstances and factors instead of resorting to a made-up sounding amount of money.

The McIntire wading pool, whatever its current physical status, will not be an enjoyable place if the Meadowcreek Parkway is built. The Parkway terminus will carry much more noisy, pollution spewing traffic onto the pool. This recognition has to be a big factor in the decision to close it. By the way, the Parkway may still not be built, and keeping this wading pool may be one additional reason not to build it.

I see the leak as a bigger issue than the drain. Why is no one quoting prices for fixing the leak? I suspect the $20,000 figure has far more to do with that than the drain. Face it, it's a old pool that probably at the end of it's life. Either it should be budgeted to be replaced, or it should be removed. I have a toddler and I'd never take her in there, it's just gross. If we need an additonal community wading pool then why not build a new one up to current specs?

Sustainable doesn't always mean that you hold onto old things and never replace them. For example, if your old hot water heater is using up too much money and energy then it should probably be replaced. After all, people angry about the water supply issue should be equally upset about the waste of a a million gallons each year filling a leaky pool.

My great Uncle built the Fry's Spring swimming pool in 1921 and kept it running until 1972. Then a group of members bought it and have operated it ever since. There have been rough financial times and the pool has had a major renovation but it shows what you can do when you don't have taxpayer money to blow and how a little creative thinking can help. For example we figured we could actually use the spring to meet some of our water needs.

We took our kids there and I hope to take my grandchildren there. Even if it did cost $20,000 that seems like a small amount with the millions of dollars being thrown around on other projects. Maybe a private donor could pony up the money. The bottom line I think is that the Parks & Rec folks don't think this is sexy enough. It is just like closing Crow & Smith pools. They could have been renovated cheaply but a big new aquatic center for millions of dollars would make Parks & Rec look more important.

According to today's DP, the $20,000 figure is accurate. Facts....

Even if it is $20,000, how is that an unreasonable cost for a whole season of toddler enjoyment?