Sink Or Swim
By Kevin Clement
Photos Courtesy of Thibodaux Recreation Department
What does a new administration of an agency do when it inherits poorly maintained facilities? That was exactly the position I found myself in when I accepted the position as recreation director in Thibodaux, La. Countless issues needed to be addressed, from inadequate sewer treatment facilities to outdated parks and obsolete recreation infrastructure. Kirk Chiasson was appointed parks director at the same time, so we immediately went to work evaluating departments, programs, and infrastructure. With the assistance of a local engineering and design firm, a comprehensive assessment was completed, and the results were startling.
A total of $13,686,310 in renovations and upgrades were required. Even a “second opinion” produced similar results. So the administration considered options for funding. Since grant opportunities had become extremely scarce and those that were available would not begin to meet the city’s needs, Mayor Tommy Eschete took the issue to the voters in the form of a proposed tax. Unfortunately, the tax narrowly failed, and the administration had to devise a plan to handle the problems with extremely limited funding.
Money Down The Drain
The administration immediately assumed a “stop the bleeding” mentality and prioritized the city’s issues. One of the real concerns was the Thibodaux Municipal Pool. Originally built in the late 1960s, the pool was a money pit. It had significant water leaks that cost the city approximately $80,000 annually. Leaking along with the water were expensive chemicals at a price tag of $34,000. That was simply unacceptable.
With the assistance of my large administrative team of two (April Danos and Brenda Barrios), we returned to the drawing board and began investigating options. Was demolition the only financially feasible option? Losing the pool facility would not only adversely impact the individuals (adults and youth) who otherwise would not have access to recreational swimming and lessons, but also deprive the local schools that utilize the pool for their swim teams. We decided to consider renovation options.
Chiasson and I realized the first step in the process was to examine users’ needs. We wanted a pool that could support swimming lessons and water aerobics, along with public, family, and competitive swimming. The solution also had to be economically feasible. Because of the money to be saved without the excessive loss of water and chemicals, our team believed the city would realize a quick return on the investment, but were still anxiously awaiting the renovation options and estimates.
The Bottom Falls Out
The only option in renovating the facility was a liner because the leaks were too extensive. The lowest estimate to completely demolish a pool, replace disintegrated drainage, install a vinyl liner, and add racing lanes, starting blocks, ropes, and a bulkhead was $134,000.
The team, along with the city administration and city council, realized that renovating the pool was the best choice. Chiasson and I began working closely with the contractor to develop an acceptable plan and timeline. We considered the viewpoints of all involved and monitored every aspect of the project. No detail was too small.
The original pool was 150 feet by 60 feet and 3 feet to 10 feet deep. The need for a 10-foot-deep pool was not a factor since liability concerns had forced the removal of diving boards. The team, along with Randy Landry Construction from Thibodaux, and RenoSys Corporation from Indiana, devised a detailed plan. The sides of the pool were still in good condition and the contractor knew he would be able to salvage all four walls. Luckily, the existing gutter system as well as the pump system and pool deck was in good condition.
Although we needed to completely understand what we had, what could be salvaged, and what we wanted, we also had to plan for the unexpected. Like most projects that involve subsurface work, there are usually surprises; this project was no different. A major problem was discovered when the concrete and existing drainage were removed from the pool’s bottom. There was no rock. There was no base. There was only a quick-sand type of mud; the 60-year-old cast-iron drains had simply disintegrated, the pipes were gone, and the water was flowing straight into the ground. The team knew that a packed limestone base was necessary, and for an additional $54,000, the pool was formed on solid ground. Within two months, the newly renovated pool was ready for business. The final cost of renovations was $188,000.
Ultimately, there have been savings since the renovation. Water consumption now costs only $20,000 per year and chemicals only $14,000, amounting to an annual savings of $80,000. As expected, the city did experience a quick return on investment, and within two and a half years, the project paid for itself.
How have the renovations improved the city’s recreation offerings? In the first year, the city was able to add a swim-team program to its lineup; 87 youth were able to experience competitive swimming—some for the first time. The city also was able to allow more schools to utilize the first-class facility.
Additionally, recreation-swim memberships have increased 40 percent, and the program continues to thrive.
Reflecting on the project, the ability to know what we had and then deciding what we needed were crucial. Having everyone on board was essential. Allowing for the unexpected was mandatory. We kept meticulous notes, updated timelines, and communicated daily on every aspect. This project is a success because it saves the city money and adds to its ability to offer quality programming.
Mayor Eschete comments on the department’s success: “Both Kevin and Kirk have … accomplished more than I could have ever dreamed, considering the resources they had available to them. In addition to the municipal pool project, their innovative solutions to improve other aging recreation infrastructures have resulted in upgraded facilities which will service our youth and adult citizens for many years to come.”
Kevin Clement is the recreation director for the city of Thibodaux, La. Reach him at Kevin Clement firstname.lastname@example.org .