Othello to close community pool over safety concerns

Apr. 23—OTHELLO — Mayor Shawn Logan announced during Monday's Othello City Council meeting that the Othello Community Pool will have to be closed indefinitely and eventually replaced due to safety concerns.

The announcement came after a presentation from Othello Public Works Director Curt Carpenter on his recent investigation into improper pipe installation and poor construction when the pool was built in 2007.


Carpenter said the pressure pipes have been leaking since the first year.

"The first year you used 1.5 million gallons. It was leaking from day one," Carpenter said. "It increased pretty consistently until there's kind of a phenomenon in 2019 (when) it doesn't look like it was used much and in 2020 the pool was closed. Immediately, in 2021, we used 5.5 million gallons and then it progressed drastically. Last year, we used 34 million gallons."

Carpenter showed pictures of the pipes taken during the original construction. He said many of the pipes are installed incorrectly, with pipes rubbing against each other, laying on top of one another and installed without bedding, meaning movement in soil or concrete will easily break the pipes.

With water leaking into the soil and foundation of the pool, other areas have become damaged over the years, such as the wall of the deep end, which is bowing out about 3 inches, Carpenter said.

"The structure is failing underneath the liners, every connection," Carpenter said. "This concrete is cracked. The whole floor dropped two to three inches ... The water's been running in there with the chlorine and the acids and eating up all the concrete structure underneath the liners."

Carpenter said he noticed the water loss from the pool going up drastically in the last year or so, leading to the city investigating the source of the leak and discovering the extent of the damage.

"I caught it last year," Carpenter said. "I don't know why it wasn't caught earlier. You were (losing) 1.5 million the first year; that should have been a red flag right off of that. I can't explain it. I mean, I took it, when I came along, that that was common. I didn't really investigate because I didn't know how bad it was, and then last year I'm like, 'This is a big loss, I should be able to find that; that's a big leak.' Well, the problem is it's leaking everywhere."

Mayor Logan addressed the public directly during the meeting.

"While we know that there were other people involved in this before we were, we're still going to accept the responsibility for it because that's who has the responsibility," Logan said. "I guess the question I would ask if I was asking elected officials is, 'What happened? How did you let this happen?' and I guess my response is we just did not recognize what was taking place in front of us and we didn't understand how desperate the situation really was until this year."

Next steps

Not only is the pool leaking large amounts of water, it is a significant safety hazard.

"Realistically, this pool needs to be torn out and rebuilt and we're going to have to find financing for that," Logan said. "The last pool ... was financed with a bond issue where the public voted to pay for a new pool for the community. But in order to do that, we're going to have to identify just what needs to be removed; in other words, further investigation is going to take place and then new plans would have to be drawn."

The pool closure will affect Othello's local swim team, the Barracudas, who were planning on hosting a "Champs" event with other regional teams this summer.

"What makes it so difficult is that I don't even know if the swim team can even go to Champs, because they have to have a place to practice. They have to have a place to be able to swim," Logan said. "In some ways, we let you down and you can't get that time back. We recognize that. We accept responsibility for that."

Logan said the city would intervene on behalf of the team if it can to help them locate and get to a place where the team can swim, and he emphasized that the city council is a group of problem solvers.

"Your mayor and staff continually are looking for grant money and we will come back to the community with some solutions, but for now, the news tonight is grim," Logan said. "As you can see, this started from the very beginning and it lasted 17 years, surprisingly, but when we go to build a new pool, we want to build something that'll last 30 to 35 years."

Council member John Lallas commented on what a new pool could look like.

"Maybe in the future when we're looking at this facility, we could look at putting in diving boards, putting in maybe a tower, for diving, and make it an athletic type of pool," he said.

Othello resident Craig Simpson commented during the meeting on building a new pool.

"I think one of the major issues I see is ... you're going to go back to the community here shortly to try to get a larger bond issuance for a replacement pool, which I think everybody would hope that it's larger and more dynamic than the one we have right now, but the reality is in our town it's hard to pass those kinds of bonds," he said. "I'm not stating that anybody wouldn't do it, but you need to aggressively look for the grants and whatnot to try to lessen this burden on the community. I'm not saying it's anybody's fault here, but it's not the community's fault either.

Lallas brought up the idea of pursuing legal action against the company that built the pool.

"If this pool was damaged from day one and we can prove that it was not up any code that it was needed to be done at, we may have action," Lallas said. "I don't even know if they exist anymore after 17 years, but if they're in business, we need to get something back from them."

Othello's city attorney Hillary Evans said the chances of finding something actionable within the statute of limitations are slim. Lallas said it may be possible since the company worked with the city on the pool after the initial construction.

There is very little to do in Othello and the pool was one of the few recreational outlets for our area youth. In addition, we have an active swim team, Othello Barracudas, who was set to host the regional championship," said Othello resident Sandy Summers Russell in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald. "This is the number one fundraiser for the club and they only get the opportunity every four years. The last one was Covid year and it was shut down then too. The club has been struggling to stay solvent until the next opportunity to host the championship. This will effectively shut them down."

Logan said he was sorry that the situation had led to the pool's closure.

"I'm really sorry, everyone," he said. "We're devastated that this is where we find ourselves, so we're going to do our best to dig our way out of this and put together a new pool."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.