Public pools violating drain laws due to close Saturday

Public pools violating drain laws due to close Saturday

Students in a lifeguard class at Vernon Hills High School might have to go elsewhere for training. The pool will be closed Saturday because the school is not in compliance with a 2008 federal law requiring pool drains that prevent swimmers from getting trapped under water. (Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune / September 28, 2011)


By Robert McCoppin and Amy Alderman, Tribune reporters

8:16 a.m. CDT, September 28, 2011

About 400 pools statewide are in danger of closing this weekend because they do not have legally mandated drains designed to keep swimmers from getting trapped, regulators warned Tuesday.

Some schools, park districts, hotels, and condo and apartment complexes may have to shut down their pools and hot tubs, potentially disrupting swim teams, lessons, exercise classes and recreational swimmers.

State officials said they warned pool managers about the new requirements six times over the past three years and would not extend the deadline beyond Saturday. Pools that aren’t in compliance could remain closed for two months or more pending state approval of their plans.

New drains or covers that can’t trap swimmers with powerful suction are required under the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act of 2007, prompted in part by the drowning of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s 7-year-old granddaughter in a spa tub. Illinois adopted similar requirements.

Of 4,000 public pools statewide, about 10 percent aren’t in compliance, said Melaney Arnold, Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman.

Pools atVernon Hills andLibertyville high schools are among those that will be emptied and closed by Saturday.

State inspectors notified Community High School District 128 last year that both pools need updated drains by the deadline, Superintendent Prentiss Lea told frustrated parents at a meeting Monday night. But Lea said the issue was not brought to him for urgent action.

“I take full responsibility on behalf of the school district for our failure to comply with this process,” Lea said. “We understand the magnitude of disruption to our many pool users.”

Cathy Lehmann, of Barrington, said the mistake has forced her son’s Cats Aquatics team to find a new place to practice.

“I understand misunderstandings happen, but this is three years old,” she said.

The district submitted new drainage plans to the state in August, but Lea said they were rejected without clarification. He said regulators also erroneously told the district it did not submit an engineer’s signature and seal.

After a meeting with state regulators Monday, Lea said, cost estimates shot up to $125,000, rather than the $6,000 originally anticipated. That means the job has to go out for bids, he said, and could take three months.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Lake Bluff, and State Rep. Carol Sente, D-Lincolnshire, sent a letter to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Damon T. Arnold asking for an extension until Jan. 1 for the district to comply, but the request was denied.

A meeting to discuss the problem with parents and pool users was also scheduled for Tuesday night in the Vernon Hills High School Studio Theater.

All YMCA of MetroChicago pools meet the new regulations except Camp Duncan in Ingleside, which is closed for the season. Work will be done next month, spokeswoman Katelyn Thrall said.

A state list of noncompliant pools last year included pools at some fitness centers, parks and schools all over the state, but regulators said they did not have an updated list available Tuesday, so it’s unclear which pools may be closed.