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Neighborhood Swimming Pool Openings Uncertain

By Geoff Dankert | Friday, April 27, 2012

Pool openings may be delayed at a number of parks this summer. Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

Two months before the city’s outdoor swimming pools are scheduled to open, a number of neighborhood pools are still awaiting required safety upgrades, creating uncertainty about when the pools will be available for families to use.

Local park advisory councils are just now being told of the potential for delays, but a spokeswoman said the Chicago Park District is working closely with regulators to make sure pools open as scheduled on June 15. “That’s the course we’ve been on for many, many months,” said Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner.

She confirmed that work has been completed at Avondale Park, 3516 W. School St., and is awaiting final inspection. Permits have been secured and a contractor hired for work at California Park, 3843 N. California Ave.; Hamlin Park, 3035 N. Hoyne Ave.; and Holstein Park, 2200 N. Oakley Ave.

Hamlin Park’s advisory council tabled a discussion about opening the pool earlier for adult lap swim when Park District representatives said necessary compliance work had not been completed. Council secretary Christina Herzog said safety is “a critical priority” for the pool’s operation, but that the possibility of a delayed opening would be a disappointment. “The pool’s a tremendous asset to the community. It’s heavily used during the summer,” she said.

At issue is compliance with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which was signed into law in 2007. It requires pool operators to install larger drain covers and backup systems to prevent injury and death from being sucked into pool drains. The law is named for a seven-year-old girl who died in 2002 when a hot tub drain trapped her underwater.

The Illinois Department of Public Health began sending advisories to pool operators in 2008, and ruled that all pools not in compliance by Oct. 1, 2011, would be forced to close until they installed required safety gear. Parks referenced above are on a list of non-compliant pools provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health dated April 3. The IDPH is in charge of monitoring compliance with the Act, but authorities in Springfield say the task of inspecting pools within the city falls to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

In all, more than 40 Chicago Park District pools are on the state’s most recent list. Maxey-Faulkner said the delay in completing the work had to do with “confusion” about the requirements of the Act. “At one point, [we thought] that if you had a certain type of pool, you had to do this. We don’t have many of those types of pools, and then it turned out that everyone had to retrofit.”

Christina Herzog said her colleagues on the Hamlin Park Advisory Council have been “curious and anxious” about whether the pool would be opening. “We will definitely work with the Park District to learn more and see what we can do to accelerate the work that needs to be done,” she said. “Businesses and families alike are going to feel a void if its opening is delayed.”

You can see the full list of non-compliant pools in the State of Illinois here

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