February 14, 2013The Grimsley High School Save Our Pool committee has met twice in a week, most recently on Monday, Feb. 11, with engineers, Greensboro officials and Guilford County Schools administrators in an effort to bring down the cost of saving the closed indoor pool at Grimsley.
The group, organized by Don Gilchrist, president of the Greensboro Swimming Association and the parent of a Grimsley student, is trying to prevent the City of Greensboro from demolishing the pool by discrediting the cost estimates of high-dollar engineering firm Sutton-Kennerly & Associates Consulting Engineers Inc., which has estimated that it will cost up to $4.9 million to renovate the pool.
Gilchrist, after Monday's meeting, said that Sutton-Kennerly had backpedaled and come up with a plan to renovate the pool for $2.5 million with a metal roof and $2.7 million with a synthetic membrane roof.
Save Our Pool estimates that it will cost about $1 million to fix the pool, which was closed on the afternoon of Dec. 7, 2011, after a windstorm sheared off part of the metal roof of the pool building – but the pool was maintained and useable, although unused, until three months ago, when the city ran out of water-purifying chemicals and stopped filtering the pool's water. The pool building also has cracks in two walls, one of them load-bearing.
The Grimsley pool is owned by the City of Greensboro, not Guilford County Schools. The deed to the land for the pool the school system sold to Greensboro for $10 in 1975, as well as the shared-use agreement drawn up the same year, gave the city the responsibility of maintaining the pool, apparently in perpetuity, since there is no end date for the agreement. The city hasn't done so, although Guilford County Schools has maintained an indoor pool at Smith HIgh School built under the same agreement and owned by the schools.
Sutton-Kennerly originally gave Greensboro four options on the pool: fixing it to extend its life for up to 15 years for $4.9 million; building a new pool on the site for $4.3 million; building a new pool on a different site for $4.4 million; or simply demolishing the building and pool for $375,000.
Save Our Pool, relying on a new boring study by S&ME Inc. environmental engineers of Raleigh, has had contractors estimate that the Grimsley pool could be repaired cheaply and put back into service quickly. The S&ME report supported the group's plan to drive some compacted-stone piers to support the southeast corner of the pool, which has sunk by four inches since 1976, patch up the walls, repair the roof and reopen the pool.
Gilchrist said that the $2.5 million or $2.7 million estimates are still inflated.
"That's too much," Gilchrist said. "It's way too much. At least we've got them coming down in price."
Sutton-Kennerly presented the new plan at a noon meeting on Monday at the offices of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department.
Gilchrist said the sticking point is that Sutton-Kennerly insists on renovating the building, and renovations trigger a requirement that the pool building be brought up to current building codes. The original Sutton-Kennerly proposal included new locker rooms, a deeper pool, bringing the building into conformance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a host of other improvements.
"Our position was that they need to look at repairing this facility instead of renovating it and doing all the code upgrades associated with renovating the structure," Gilchrist said. "They're a million dollars off, at least, from what we're proposing."
Guilford County Schools Director of Maintenance Gerald Greeson, who was at Monday's meeting, said the school system's understanding is that the city is responsible for fixing the building under the deed and the shared-use agreement.
"You would certainly think so," Greeson said. "That would certainly be our stand. But the city may not take our view. They may say, 'That's it, we're out of here.' They haven't said it, but it's always an option open to them."
Under the shared-use agreement, if Greensboro doesn't repair the pool, or if the property ceases being used for a pool, ownership of the property reverts to Guilford County Schools. Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins has supported tearing down the pool. If Greensboro does, Guilford County Schools will regain ownership of the property.
Greeson said Guilford County Schools administrators were only recently given the information Gilchrist had gathered and will have to analyze it.
Gilchrest said one option would be for Greensboro and Guilford County Schools to split the cost of repairing the building enough to make it useable.
"We'll come up with a final cost estimate, and it will be between the city and the county how much each will pay," he said. "There is some interest from the county."
Save Our Pool members have met with Guilford County commissioners and members of the Guilford County Board of Education, as well as Greensboro city councilmembers.
Greeson said the Guilford County Schools Facilities Department has not had instructions on the pool from the school board or from Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green. He said, "No, we haven't, other than to listen very carefully."
Greeson said that, if the Greensboro City Council does not repair the pool, it risks a political backlash.
"I would certainly think so," he said. "I think the community would be upset."
A Jan. 24 meeting in the media center of Grimsley High School drew about 100 representatives of the large community that uses Grimsley's indoor pool.
Those present on Jan. 24 included retired 30-year head swimming coach Durante Griffin, who manages the Smith pool and managed the Grimsley pool until it was closed; current head swimming coach Angelo Kontoulas; and representatives of other programs that formerly used the Grimsley pool, including Triad Masters Swimming and the Greensboro Swimming Association youth swim league. There were also parents and students from Page High School, which used the pool.
Those at the Jan. 24 meeting made clear that the opposition to tearing down the pool comes not merely from Grimsley athletic supporters but from the many people and organizations that have regularly used the pool. Numerous people said that two generations of their family have used the pool for scout swimming training, private birthday parties, water aerobics and, of course, competitive swimming.
Gilchrist said that Save Our Pool will continue to generate concrete plans to fix the pool.
"We are going to reach out to some contractors and get some estimates," he said. "We are pretty much going to avoid Sutton-Kennerly as much as possible and go to several of the city councilmembers. Part of the problem with the City Council was that they were seriously misinformed to begin with."