Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A sign designates a closed diving board at Teagle Pool, Teagle Hall, March 17, 2022.

March 28, 2022

A Deep Dive into the State of Cornell’s Pools

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The pools at Teagle Hall and Helen Newman Hall, constructed in 1951 and 1963, respectively, are past their expected lifetime. 

“…Our pools are and have been operating beyond their expected life span,” said Andy Noel, director of athletics and physical education. 

Aquatic teams and coaches recognize this problem and are fighting to replace the pools. It impacts their practice and meets, and unless they are the varsity team who receives access to the Ithaca College pools, teams are deprived of pool time. 

President Martha Pollock commented on the expensive undertaking on Cornell of acquiring new pools. But, a new solution needs to be established soon before Cornell is left without any pools to use. 

“Much time and effort is being invested in pool rehabilitation, maintenance and identifying a workable, realistic path forward,” Noel said about the status of acquiring new pools.  

Noel cited a report from 2019 by Counsilman-Hunsaker about the pool facilities provided by the Cornell athletic department, which voiced concerns on the pools reaching the end of their lifespan. While repairs could add a few more years, there are still fears of a destructive failure. 

Noel said, in an email to The Sun, that the pools are breaking down in more ways than one: the turnover rate does not meet modern standards, air quality is poor, cracked tiles result in leaks and more shortcomings that have been repaired. 

The pools faced their increasingly acute problems as the operational aspects reached the end of their lifetime, maintenance workers were unavailable to manage routine maintenance repairs and a lack of a primary pool technician. 

Turnover rates are connected to the filtration system. It is the amount of time it takes for the filtration system to cycle through the pool water at one time. A turnover rate should be about 12 hours, so after the pump is turned on, the water should be filtered and cleaned within 12 hours. 

“The water is not being cleaned [and] filtered as thoroughly as it should be, and water quality [and] clarity is difficult to maintain,” Noel said. “Code regulations do not permit pool usage when the water is cloudy to the extent that the bottom of the pool is not visible.”

Cornell’s pools filter through the pool very slowly with an old filtration system, creating cloudy or murky water. Aquatic teams cannot utilize their resources efficiently with low visibility and water quality. 

“[The] HVAC systems in the natatoriums do not meet contemporary standards resulting in chemical-heavy air at pool surface level,” Noel said. “The air is not exhausted and refreshed as needed. The chloramine in the air is not successfully evacuated resulting in the poor air quality negatively impacting users.”

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning are combined systems to guarantee good water and air quality with appropriate airflow while providing swimmers comfort. 

The pump, filter and piping systems have reached their endpoint, but most have been repaired. 

As for the pool decks and tiles, the cracks are worsening and the security of the pool is defective. 

“Concrete pool decks had extensive deterioration and rebar corrosion and are no longer structurally sound,” Noel said. “Cracks exist in the concrete/tile pool surface resulting in ongoing leaks.”

Fortunately, the statement said that a few repairs had stabilized the deck. There has been $750 thousand worth of repairs done to fix the situation temporarily. 

Noel noted that all failed filtration tanks, pumps and piping have been replaced at both pools. Timber shoring was installed beneath the concrete decks to secure stability and fix a few concrete parts. Pools were drained and underwent grouting repairs in leaky places. Finally, because of the standards of the Americans with Disability Act, lifts were changed to meet specific standards to make the pools accessible.

Closures are happening for two main reasons: water quality is poor, and there isn’t enough help to keep up with routine cleanings. 

As mentioned earlier, the water quality has reached the point where it’s dangerous for people to swim in the pools. Between the visibility issues and the lack of cleaning occurring, people face risks while swimming in the pool through low visibility or exposure to diseases, such as diarrhea, E. Coli or hepatitis A.

“Lack of adequate time dedicated, currently available to conduct routine, daily pool maintenance, directly causing water quality issues to accelerate,” Noel said. “A reduction in programming [to reduce the number of human body oils, commercial souls, shampoo’s] in the water was required for the filtration system to catch-up given heavy, consistent use to reduce closure frequency.”

The usage in the pools was way more than the pool itself could keep up with. So, when the problems were becoming worse, the decision to cut the amount of usage in the pools seemed like the only reasonable solution. This would result in the unscheduled pool closures the aquatic teams constantly managed. 

Noel commented that there is a priority list pre-established as to who is granted pool time at the top, being P.E. classes teach swimming for students to complete the required swim test and learn necessary skills. 

Then Intercollegiate swim and dive teams, club teams, open swim and other P.E. and club activities like diving, water polo and Cornell triathlon club team.

To combat the ad hoc closures, the intercollegiate teams were prioritized and given the resource to practice and hold meets at Ithaca College, meanwhile everyone else was left without any access to pools. 

According to Noel, teams like club water polo were assigned times last semester but were interrupted by a required code closure. Since the only possibility of avoiding a prolonged closure was to reduce the engagement, they consequently removed the club teams from the schedule mid-semester.

“[The reality is that] if the amount of team, club, P.E. swim lessons and open swim was not reduced, the pool water may have deteriorated resulting in closure for all users,” Noel said. 

Noel said that as the problems continue, there is a blatant risk of the issues worsening, causing the structure to collapse. 

According to Noel, besides the temporary fixes, there is still a problem with leaks potentially continuing to grow and develop, creating a situation where the pools have to close for a long duration. The piping and gutter system might be unable to be fixed, leading to the pools closing immediately to have the entire system be rebuilt. 

“Strategic measures that were put in place in 2019-2020 were executed with the hope of an approximate 5-year lifespan,” Noel said. “If this time horizon is exceeded, interventions like structural shoring would likely fail.”

The University Assembly adopted a resolution that supports the Faculty Senate’s “Inclusion and Prioritization of a New Natatorium in the ‘To Do the Greatest Good’ Capital Campaign.” While this is not an established plan for replacing the pools, it’s a start to resolving the age-long pool debacle.