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New law delays opening of Janesville's pools

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
June 4, 2009
— The opening of Janesville's city pools will be delayed so the city can modify drain systems to comply with a new federal safety law.

All five pools in the city must be modified before they open. That includes the Palmer and Riverside wading pools, the main pool at Rockport, and the wading and diving pools at Rockport.


The work is expected to cost about $60,000.


The Palmer Wading Pool, which had been scheduled to open this Saturday, is expected to open Monday, June 15, said Bonnie Davis, recreation director.


The Rockport facilities—wading pool, diving well and main pool—had been scheduled to open Saturday, June 13, but their opening has been delayed until June 15, Davis said.


Riverside Wading Pool remains closed because of high water. It has 6 to 8 inches of rainwater in its vessel, and the water must be gone before repairs are made.


Pools across the nation must be modified to conform to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which was passed after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III died when the powerful suction of a spa drain trapped the 7-year-old underwater.


Janesville's recreation and engineering departments have been working for several months to get the needed approvals, along with everyone else in the country, Davis said.


The city has had its plans ready since February, but it's a busy time because so many facilities are trying to get into compliance, she said.


Davis believes the changes should be made. She was recreation director in Bloomington, Ind., when a 12-year-old boy was sucked into a drain and could not be pulled out. Staff shut down the pump to free him, and he had to be resuscitated.


Wading pools and spas are the most dangerous because they typically contain just one drain, Davis said.


The law took affect in December 2008, but the state gave pool operators an additional year to conform, Davis said, adding that Wisconsin has some of the strictest requirements in the nation.


Some of the modifications will require new pumps and grates, for example.


"We are only one of a handful of municipalities who will have that completed," Davis said.


Tim Banwell, Rock County's environmental health director, said he is aware of only one motel owner in Janesville who has so far completed modifications.


"There's kind of a challenge in getting this done," Banwell said, noting that corrective products are not yet developed, and the cost is considerable. "Some pools will probably end up closing. The resources aren't there to do this overnight."


Banwell said the county has been telling pool owners to call their insurance companies before deciding whether to open their pools without the modifications.



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