Closing the Milton High School pool is a decision that would rest with district officials, but an upcoming insurance inspection could leave administrators with no choice.
Many have advocated on behalf of the city’s only pool amid its uncertain future. Public comment at the Feb. 27 school board meeting lasted 90 minutes as swimmers and their parents urged the board to spend the necessary money to fix the pool.
The district is hamstrung until March 13, when a liability specialist from EMC Insurance will evaluate the pool. That person will check for known hazards and tell Milton what it needs to fix and what it should fix, building and grounds supervisor Stephen Schantz said.
The assessor will recommend repairs but does not have the power to shut down the pool, he said.
District Administrator Tim Schigur said Milton wants to keep the pool open, but the district needs to ensure it is safe for swimmers, he said.
“Having our inspector here, they’re the ones who determine the liability side of things. We don’t want to put ourselves at risk as a school district,” Schigur said. “If they deem there’s a known hazard, if we make attempts to fix the hazard, that helps us if there’s an accident or issue. If we ignore it, it’s harder to justify that.”
Schigur said if the insurance inspector indicates the pool’s problems are too significant or if the pool is a danger to swimmers, that could prompt a shutdown.
Milton has routine insurance inspections throughout its buildings, but Schantz was unsure when the pool was last evaluated. The district invited the inspector this time to provide a “fresh set of eyes,” he said.
Requesting an inspection was part of Milton’s risk management strategy. It was not meant to give the board an ultimatum for pool upgrades, Schantz said.
Milton has made stopgap repairs over the years, but tight budgets have prevented maintenance staff from making any significant upgrades. Now, “larger dollar amount fixes are imminent,” Schigur said.
Recent school board discussions about the pool’s significant needs were intended for transparency, not as a scare tactic, he said.
Tiles are falling off the wall, the pool is losing water at a faster-than-normal rate, and its mechanical system needs an overhaul, he said.
The pool deck could be sinking in certain areas, particularly around its drains. Standing water near the drains is evidence of that, Schigur said.
Schantz did not want to speculate on what has caused the deck to sink or how that issue could be fixed. There are too many variables, he said. The district will know more following the March 13 evaluation.
Whatever comes out of the assessment, the Milton pool would not shut down immediately, Schigur said. But if it must close temporarily, he also didn’t want to speculate on how the district would accommodate its swimmers.
The evaluation will give the board a better idea how much pool upgrades would cost. The school board will then have to decide if it should continue short-term fixes or make a major repair instead.
A 20-year fix might cost $1.5 million. That would cover some mechanical changes and overhaul the existing facility, Schigur said.
Schantz wasn’t sure how much a lesser, shorter-term fix would be. Schigur previously told The Gazette such a solution would be in the ballpark of $500,000 to $900,000.
A new pool would have been included if either of the district’s two failed facilities referendums had passed. Even if one had passed, Milton still would need to make temporary repairs to its current pool, Schantz said.
One day before the insurance assessment, district voters will decide whether to spend $500,000 to buy the Hawk Zone. Milton has rented the former bowling alley for the past year and used it as extra interior athletics space.
If voters reject the Hawk Zone, it would be up to the school board to determine the next facilities priority. The pool is only one issue among many, Schigur said.
“What we’re looking to do is get direction from our insurance carrier and the inspector. Once we have an idea of what needs to get done, it may include a conversation with the board,” Schigur said. “It may not if we can handle it within the maintenance budget.
“If there’s a major decision financially, then we’ll have to look at potential options. At this point, the No. 1 option is to keep the pool open.”