No sooner did the local recreation commission ask for a structural assessment of Nelson‘s aquatic centre than the ceiling fell in — literally.
On January 28, a 16’ x 4’ section of tiles dropped from the false ceiling during an aquafit class. Portions landed in the water and part on the deck, but no one was hurt and it caused no damage on the ground. Faulty t-bar supports were blamed.
Regional District of Central Kootenay community services manager Joe Chirico said while the incident may have been symptomatic of the pool’s deficiencies — it was built in 1975 and last renovated in 2005 — the ceiling had not been identified as a problem. In fact, it had been inspected a month earlier.
“The suspended ceiling is difficult to check,” he said. “We had not had any failure of that system before. We’ve replaced damaged tiles on it. So it’s not something we expected to be an issue.”
It soon became apparent the fix would not be easy, quick, or cheap.
In the days following the collapse, the pool was closed indefinitely, all bookings and programming were cancelled, refunds issued, and ten staff laid off.
The lone bit of good news was that while it was initially feared the ceiling tiles might contain asbestos, tests indicated otherwise — although the trusses did have lead paint, which flaked onto the tiles and had to be removed. An assessment also determined the roof itself to be structurally sound.
The extended closure was a drag for regular users including Nelson Reflections, the local synchronized swim club which had just attracted six new swimmers.
Coach Erin Fitchett worried about keeping her team happy and engaged.
“This is out of our hands. Everyone involved, be it the pool or our club families, is working to get through it together,” she said. A couple of guest coaches came on board to offer dryland training.
The Castlegar aquatic centre tried to help Nelson groups, though their first priority remained the clubs based there.
Triathlete Denise Uhrynuk carpooled to Castlegar with a group of about 15. But because her pool access was limited, she switched to a sprint triathlon event rather than the Olympic distance.
Chris Wright of the Kootenay Swim Club said their swimmers went to Castlegar too, but some team members dropped out, finding the commute difficult. That made things more expensive for the rest.
“Our budget is forecast on total membership at the beginning of the season and so the withdrawal of their memberships has passed down the costs onto the remaining members,” he said.
Just as the pool shut down, swimmers were gearing up for the AA provincials. “We’re trying our best to deal with this adversity as a team and overcome this temporary setback,” Wright said.
Beginning in March, scaffolding was erected and the work site enclosed in plastic sheeting to contain the lead paint. Temporary walls were also built in the fitness centre to separate it from the pool viewing area.
Then the contractor took the ceiling down and sandblasted the roof trusses for repainting. This much alone cost close to $100,000. Further upgrades included new paint that acts as an air-vapour barrier, energy-efficient LED lighting, and acoustic treatments to dampen noise, a role the ceiling tiles previously filled.
The construction phase cost about $289,000, just under half the total $600,000 budgeted to complete the repair and renovation.
“We’re very conscious that when you tear apart an older building, you can find things you weren’t expecting,” the RDCK’s Chirico said. “We’ve been fortunate that most of what we’ve found had been anticipated.”
The pool closure was at first expected to last until the end of March, then June. By then it was too late for the Nelson Neptunes summer swim club, which cancelled its season.