Tahlequah Daily Press

September 17, 2012

Why can’t they build swimming pools without drains?

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — “I seen that KAW-lum you done wrote ‘bout them pool drains, and that’s prob’ly what made ‘em close the durn thing,” the woman said.

She had just bought a membership to the NSU Fitness Center pool, right before officials announced they were closing it. If she had advance warning, “I’da bought me wunna them ‘endless pools’ instead of a Toyota,” she said earlier. That latter comment was made before some loud-mouthed schnook told her who I was, and she found another target for her wrath.

There’s no conspiracy to defraud pool patrons. Tim Foutch, NSU vice president for operations, told us what happened. Jon Asbill, interim director of capital projects and planning, crawled under the deck and spied the corrosion. The deck’s replacement would be a “capital project,” not a “maintenance” issue, which means it falls under Jon’s domain (whereas maintenance issues are the domain of Facilities Management, for which my husband works).

Other people may have known about the corrosion earlier, but since the deck was in no danger of collapsing, and plans were in the works to revamp the Fitness Center, there was no hurry to replace it. The project was initially slated for Christmas break, but when Andy Jorgensen complained to the state health department about water quality, it was expedited, although inspectors said there was no problem with the water. By Andy’s admission (see his letter, http: //tinyurl.com/8olhe9s), he’s been complaining about the pool for years. My guess is, NSU officials were tired of the griping. My observation is based on years of swimming laps with Andy; I’ve heard my share of griping myself. The deck repairs will take up to eight weeks, and the pool may reopen before it’s again closed for the Fitness Center remodel. Some folks think the remodel could be done in phases, allowing the pool to remain open longer. I’m no expert in these matters, but Tim has told me he’ll be seeking community input, so those of you who consider yourselves experts can weigh in at the proper time.

Tim has told me some of what’s planned for the “wellness center” (see http://tinyurl. com/8dyewlw). I told him I hoped they would remove the spooky portal window in the deep end of the pool. If you’re brave enough to dive into the depths of Lane 2 and peer through the portal, you’ll see the pump and filter room, which, curiously, also houses a washer and dryer. Most women shun Lane 2 because they suspect men are sneaking into that room and watching the swimmers, hoping a bikini top will fall off. Not that it makes a difference; the portal was designed to check for water turbidity, and if you look through it, you can see everyone in the pool.

But I’ve digressed from the drain. Despite the Toyota owner’s comment, I’ve never written a column about pool drains, though I’ve alluded to them and promised to eventually reveal my phobia. My fellow lap swimmers know about it, because I don’t wear goggles, and people always ask why. When you wear goggles, you can see clearly – and not only can you gauge the depth of the water at the “deep end” (a problem for those with mild acrophobia, like myself), but you can discern the features of the drains.

I’m a good swimmer, but I’ve always been afraid of drains. My grandmother used to take us to Swatek Park in Oklahoma City when we were kids. In the wall of the 3-foot “deep end” of the pool was a gaping round maw of a drain, with a dark grate and an even darker hole behind it. But this orifice was nothing compared to the two dusky, rectangular voids at the farthest reaches of the 10-foot deep end of the pool at the old YMCA in Muskogee. This is where I learned to swim and dive, so I had to do lots of time in the deep end, but I was always uneasy. I was sure some Y employee would accidentally flip a switch, and twin whirlpools would form, taking everyone in their path to the bottom and fixing them there, until someone turned off the switch. By then, it would be too late. I hear this pool is closed, but the thought of those exposed drains, lurking there – perhaps in the dark, beneath the boarded-over tile deck – gives me the creeps.

The pool at OU where I trained for a water safety instructor certificate is probably closed, too. Its single, enormous, pitch-black rectangular drain yawned in the deep end, a few feet out from the pool wall. During certification, everyone had to dive in the deep end and retrieve a brick. When it was my turn, the instructor tossed the brick, which angled downward and settled dead-center on the drain grate. Mercifully, he agreed to dive in and reposition the brick. Had he not done so, the contents of my previous meal would have been floating on the surface.

Which brings us to the three NSU pool drains. From the surface, they look to be only about a foot in diameter, but perspectives can be skewed; how many of you knew one of those dashed lines on a highway is 6 feet long? My husband has repeatedly assured me there’s no way one of these drains has the power to pull down a chihuahua, much less a chubby old woman. And besides, these drains have caps on them. One time I watched Andy poke around on a drain when some gal lost her ring down there, and he didn’t stick to the bottom.

Still, you never can be sure. Like the boogyman who will one day shamble out of the closet to expel his rancid breath on your sleeping face before moving in for the kill, the drains may be quietly awaiting their chance. And it matters little whether the pool is empty or full.

There’s an “old pool” at NSU; it’s beneath the north gym of the fieldhouse. My husband has told me about the attractive tilework on that pool. Teddye Snell, who once took a swim class there, suggested it as a stopgap measure while the Fitness Center is closed. When I told my husband, he gave me a condescending look and said, “There’s a 3-foot hole in the side of it, and the plumbing’s shot. And besides, there’s a floor over it.” It’s just as well. No doubt the drain in that pool is one of the big ones.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.