By Nikki McKim
Humboldt’s city pool will remain closed after years of upkeep and discussion. The condition of the pool has raised serious safety concerns and the Council and Mayor decided that for the safety of the patrons and the staff, it will not open this summer.
This decision doesn’t come lightly. The Humboldt pool has been a topic of discussion for many years at City Council meetings.
Near the end of 2021, Council member Dustin White said he would like to see a committee formed for the replacement of the swimming pool.
Months later, in March, former Mayor Bob Mendenhall said the swimming pool costs at the time were “probably approximately $25,000 to $30,000.” That total was after passes were sold for the year. “Keeping it going is a major undertaking,” said Mendenhall.
The pool was first opened in 1951. The City Council closed the baby pool in 2022 due to a broken line underground that had collapsed during the winter. During that 2022 Townhall Meeting, a citizen asked if there was a plan for the future of the swimming pool. Former Mayor Mendenhall said he would like to see any money go towards things for the kids, like the swimming pool. Mendenhall noted that some of the funds (from the tax increase to be voted on that year) could be earmarked for the pool but couldn’t be guaranteed because it would be up to the Council to decide. He mentioned that the pool was built on a water table but can’t be moved because of the pool house.
During that meeting, Former Council member Larry Stauffer said he’d been in contact with an outfit in Kansas about swimming pools and was excited about looking more into it. But he needed to find out if it was affordable. He said at that time that he thought fixing the current pool would be like putting a match to a $100 bill. “We’re spending good money after bad and we’re just band-aiding it to the maximum.”
Another issue in 2021 and 2022 with the pool was finding help. Last year the Council passed motions to help with certification aid to encourage more kids to be lifeguards and return this year.
Former Mayor Mendenhall said he wanted to use the tax increase “to offer the services that folks really want. I think we need to understand that we’re going to have to do something to create a few funds and if we’re obviously, going to continue swimming pool repairs, eventually, we’re going to get to the point that we’re going to have to do something with the swimming pool,” said Mendenhall.
In April of this year, Council person Rhonda Dettmer discussed the pool situation saying she wanted to find someone to fix the current issues. She had discussed the problems with someone in Kansas and someone in Omaha. The repairs would have taken at least six weeks if these companies could have done them before pool season. Another discussion at that time was staffing.
But for another year, the Council’s most major decision was whether to pay for significant repairs to the pool or “band-aid” the problem for the season.
Dettmer said in April that the pool had two “bad spots” broken out of it. Not just cement, but broken to the grave. “It’s not good,” said Dettmer. She said the pit area is bad, too and everything depended on what everyone wanted to spend and if they wanted to try to get by for another year.
Soon the decision was clear that the pool needed to be shut down for the year.
The pool is facing a mountain of issues. Groundwater runs into the pit area under the diving boards. The pit area or basement houses pumps and electrical boxes. Water is constantly being pumped out, but sometimes the pump can’t keep up. In a photo printed in issue of the Journal, you can see where the water reaches along the pumps and filters and near the electrical to those pumps and filters.
There’s also an electrical box near a pump that it’s currently being held up by boards because there’s been rot from the constant groundwater running into the pit.
“One of our good local electricians looked at it. He said, ‘Man, I wouldn’t even think about putting my kids in there [the pool].’ Well, that kind of tells you something,” said Mayor Rathbone.
The Council agreed it wasn’t worth the risk to electrocute anyone.
The main water line that fills the pool has broken and is coming through the wall that holds the pool deck. That wall is deteriorating at a rapid rate, and at this moment, nobody knows how deep or thick that wall is due to its age. At a recent Council meeting, Councilmember Vicky Lynch said that trying to fix the pipe could cause that wall to collapse and bring the decking along with it.
Another issue is the groundwater coming through the many cracks in the pool’s walls. The floor also shows numerous repairs and patchwork over the years. Pieces of the wall and base give way to gravel from 70+ years of maintenance.
For years plaster and paint had been used to patch it, but “it won’t hold anymore,” said Lynch. Dave Boughton, who checks the pumps at the pool daily, said, “Paint’s hiding a lot down there; nobody gets to see it in this state. They see it after it’s painted and full of water.”
The lifeguard chairs need to be replaced to be brought up to date; there’s a battle to keep the pool chlorinated and safe as groundwater constantly seeps in, there are possible sinkholes under the pool and with the pressure from the outside with the high water table is pushing the pool and the walls in.
A company will be coming down later this summer to look at the issues and give the Council a better idea of what can be done, but for now, the Mayor and Council have suggested grants and fundraising with a fundraiser planned for Memorial Day weekend.
Someone in the public brought up taking the money that would have been spent for the pool and placing that in a pool fund. The Mayor said they needed to talk about that. Councilperson Lynch said, “That’s actually being reviewed by the accountant, with Rathbone adding they need to be careful how that money goes into an account.
The member of the public said that for the public state of mind, if the city wants the pool, they would be better off showing that they were willing to put money in, too, if they were going to ask businesses and patrons to do the same.
Councilmember Lynch said she agreed 100 percent.
“I’m still really a firm believer that this community can put a new pool for our youngsters and for anyone else that would like to use it,” said Mayor Rathbone. “It’s definitely served its purpose and it’s been good for our town.”