Rolling With The Punches

By Ashley Maginnis

In late 2014, the city of Vancouver’s Marshall Pool had been in operation for almost 50 years and was one of the oldest aquatic facilities in Clark County, Wash. A renovation was sorely needed, and the city decided to begin a bid process to remodel the antiquated mechanical system and bring the facility into the 21st century.

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The pool had seen small revisions in the past—a renovated deck, pool office, locker rooms, and an ADA-accessible ramp were added in 2000. A drop-slide added a new fun feature in 2007. Still, the pool had largely remained as it was when the Marshall Community Center opened in 1965.

Overcoming Obstacles
Vancouver Parks and Recreation Department staff decided to focus the redesign on the pool’s mechanical, circulation, and filtration systems.

“In the old system, some of the valves were extremely difficult to get to,” says the city’s Aquatics Program Coordinator James Fields. “You had to duck down and even crawl in very tight spaces to open or close the main drain valve. It was a challenge.”

Simply put, the mechanical room was undersized and not up to today’s standards. The first challenge faced by the city in the renovation process occurred when the first bid packet went out and only one response came back—and at a much higher cost than estimated. This necessitated a second round of bidding. This time, an acceptable bid was selected, and construction began in December 2016 with the hope that the pool could reopen just prior to the busy summer season the following year.

As one of only two community centers serving a population of more than 185,000 people, the Marshall Community Center and Marshall Pool are important assets to the city. The pool is also well-loved by residents, so closing it for six months had a significant impact on many. A drop in revenue from passes and drop-in fees was also expected during the construction. This was the second challenge faced by the city in the completion of this project.

To help mitigate these impacts, the city partnered with the Washington State School for the Blind (located less than a mile away) to allow Marshall Center passholders to use the school’s indoor pool for limited lap swims and water exercise classes while the Marshall Pool was closed. In addition, the city made Vancouver’s other public pool at Firstenburg Community Center available for free to Marshall Center passholders.

Parks and recreation staff members communicated these options to passholders through regular emails, signage, and in-person conversations during programs. The Marshall Community Center remained open throughout construction, and every effort was made to contain the renovation so other building amenities and programs would not be affected.

To keep the public up-to-date and clued into the work happening in the center, a web page was created with a project timeline, “behind-the-scenes” photos of construction, a list of alternative aquatic facilities in the area, and background on the project, and why it was needed and what would be changing. The web page was updated regularly, and information was also sent out on the city’s social media channels, in press releases, and in email communication to passholders, as well as general community members.

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More Bad News
In January 2017, the contractor demolished the Marshall Pool deck, but the majority of work took place in the spring, with concrete pouring and curing in April. New unisex changing rooms were dry-walled, and plumbing was installed in May, while the pool received a new resin deck and painted shell.

Then in June, significant problems with the quality of concrete in the west deck and columns were discovered. In addition, the parks and recreation department learned that a significant amount of existing piping that had been intended for reuse would have to be completely replaced.

“With decisive actions and communication with the contractors, we were able to mitigate the issues and reduce cost impacts,” says Marshall Community Center Director Andy Meade. “By taking advantage of the natural queuing of project elements, the general contractor didn’t have to redeploy or procure additional assets, along with labor and material.”

Unfortunately, these complications made reopening the pool in time for summer impossible. Repairs would add two months to the construction schedule, with a new opening expected about a week before Labor Day 2017.

This was the third challenge in the pool-renovation process. How would the public respond to this disappointing news?

Better Than New
The city immediately engaged media to help tell the story. The local newspaper did a thorough job of showcasing the construction progress and explaining the problems that were discovered. Before construction even began, the city’s communication to the public emphasized the flexibility of the remodel timeline and the emphasis on safety and quality work during the renovation. Thankfully, the vast majority of public feedback was positive when news of the delay came. Reasons for the delay were made clear and transparent, and the focus on safety was appreciated.

In the end, the project has given the pool an entirely new deck, replaced all of the mechanical systems, and added new gutters and ladders. A brand-new pool access hallway was created with individual and unisex family changing rooms.

In the new mechanical room, a U/V unit was installed, along with sand filters and site glass, chemical controller, chemical feeder, motors and pumps controlled by a variable frequency drive, and new plumbing lines. The ability to maintain excellent water quality was the highest priority. The complete renovation of the mechanical and filtration systems has allowed aquatic staff to better manage the pool’s water, while using fewer chemicals.

“We have the room to move around safely and without the hazards we had in the past,” said Fields. “Work is more efficient and joyful because of it.”

While the new deck and amenities, like ladders and changing rooms, were visible to the public, the size and shape of the Marshall Pool did not change. Highlighting the extensive changes to the mechanical system and showing the months-long work done during the renovation process through photos and other updates was an important tool in demonstrating what was happening. This transparency helped community members rally behind the new pool, boosting attendance numbers and overall satisfaction with the Marshall Community Center.

Vancouver Parks and Recreation celebrated the reopening of the improved pool on August 26 with a day of free public swims for the community.

When taking on a large project like this, it is vital to ensure there is a good, cohesive project-management team in place, and that communication with the design team is constant. Include stakeholders in critical decisions, have a defined project scope, and plan for contingencies. Often, with more than other facilities or projects, an older swimming pool can have plenty of hidden problems that aren’t discovered until construction breaks ground. It is important to consult with other organizations on the effectiveness of their pool projects and to devise a well-defined training and operations and maintenance plan that extends beyond the project’s completion.

Ashley Maginnis is the Marketing Assistant for the city of Vancouver, Wash., Parks and Recreation Department. Reach her at Ashley.Maginnis@cityofvancouver.us.