March 24 2011 12:00 AM

What is the fate of Lansing Community College’s swimming pool?

The humid space two stories above Lansing Community College’s six-lane swimming pool in the Gannon Building downtown is dimly lit. A metal plank juts out about 10 feet in what is essentially the attic above the pool below.

Beside the plank is an air duct system and the suspended drop ceiling about 25 feet above the spectator area below. Some pipes are rusting and corroded.

Jeff Montgomery, LCC’s pool facilities coordinator, said this area has been the “biggest issue over the years” as far as maintenance goes and an example of some of the structural problems plaguing the facility. “This (ventilation system) is aging.”

This is causing rust buildup, which shows on two panels from the pool area. LCC administrators have billed this area as one of dozens at the facility that need improving. However, Montgomery said it could be an easy fix and that much of the problems the administration sees with the facility could be done with patchwork — not all at one time. Montgomery adds that some fixes aren’t even necessary.

LCC administrators figure it will cost between $4.3 million and $4.6 million to renovate the facility and bring it up to code, including satisfying the Americans with Disabilities Act and air quality standards. Those figures are based on the work of pool consultants, engineers and architects.

But Montgomery said improvements — such as upgrading drainage pipes and the ventilation system — can be done for less than $200,000, based on estimates from B and B Pools, a pool construction and consulting company in Livonia.

The administration’s “Gannon Pool Engineering Study Synopsis,” is a four-page, six-part document of 43 upgrades needed to keep the pool open. These range from replacing floor tiles and filtration systems to replacing the ceiling and lighting system.

In response, the Physical Fitness and Wellness Department answered each requirement, saying they are already done, will be done or are completely cosmetic and unnecessary for the pool to operate. “Part Four” — which would cost $1.02 million for 13 upgrades in “natatorium finishes, lighting and electrical systems” — was completely disregarded by the department, which said “PFW’s belief is there is nothing in this section that is a necessity.”

However, the administration is of the mind to go all-in on improvements, rather than risk patching inefficiencies.

“Our thinking is that if we upgrade the system, let’s bring it up to code,” said Chris Strugar-Fritsch, executive director of administrative services. But that would require money the college doesn’t have. LCC could take out loans for it, but would end up paying more in paying of debt services — not so feasible, Strugar-Fritsch said.

“Part of the (engineering) study was to identify things that needed to be done in a predictive and proactive manner. If we piecemeal it together, everything becomes reactive,” Strugar-Fritsch said.

But Montgomery and the Physical Fitness and Wellness Department, which uses the pool, is of a different mind.

“Would we like new a facility? Yes. Do we need a new one? No,” Montgomery said. “It’s not a structural issue. It just could look better. That’s not a good reason for closing the pool.”

Richard Mull, an adjunct faculty member who started as LCC’s swim coach in 1976, teaches five classes a day, two days a week. With 15 students in each class, along with an open swim and a kids training program, he estimated between 100 and 150 people use the pool per weekday. A lifeguard estimated another 30 people use the pool on weekends.

The ultimate decision on what to do with the pool is up to the LCC Board of Trustees. Chairwoman Deborah Canja said it’s uncertain when the board’s decision will be made. She said the administration and the Physical Fitness and Wellness Department have offered their respective proposals: to completely renovate the pool for about $4.5 million or keep the pool open and make more of a patchwork of upgrades at a lesser cost.

“To renovate our pool to safe standards is a major undertaking and a long-term commitment, particularly a major capital investment. It’s also true that with some degree of minor investment now, the pool could continue to operate. We don’t know how long it could continue to operate,” she said. “Both positions are correct.”

For now, the board is in a fact-finding stage.

“We are now listening and learning. We’re in the process of evaluating the entire decision.”

She said the board’s decision will be a balancing act of keeping open a pool that’s safe while at the same time confronting uncertain revenues for next fiscal year and decreased contributions from property taxes and the state.

“We do not want to raise tuition. We have to balance all of that,” she said.

Over the past few years, Montgomery said a patchwork of upgrades have been made to the filtration and drainage system. He called the administration’s figures “inflated.”

LCC’s pool is open seven days a week but only for faculty, students and staff. On Saturdays and Sundays, those people can bring in their families for two-hour open swims. Funding for pool maintenance comes largely from tuition fees, while a small portion comes from $1 and $2 weekend fees. The facility is used the rest of the time as a classroom for aquatics courses.

Strugar-Fritsch said if the pool closes, a few ideas for reusing the roughly 11,000 square-foot space include using it for classrooms or filling in the pool. But that decision has not been made.

Montgomery has been the pool operator for more than 25 years, having started in the mid-1970s and taking some time off in between. He said that back in the ‘70s, this was a “model facility” for mid-Michigan.

Jeff McCarty, who chairs the Physical Fitness and Wellness Department, which oversees academic programs that use the pool, is also of the mind that the pool can stay open at significantly less costs than what the administration has proposed.

“I believe there are things that can be done without closing it on a longterm basis,” he said. “We know it’s an old pool and it’d be nice to get it updated.”

McCarty also said there are plans to open the pool to the public, but that plan is still in limbo.

Melissa Kamai-Arambula, a faculty member in the Physical Fitness and Wellness Department who manages the aquatics program, said at an LCC board meeting Monday that the “forecasted numbers seem a little bit inflated.”

Kamai-Arambula is also distributing a petition to keep the pool open. Those who sign support keeping the pool open until supplemental outside funding is established to pay for all of the upgrades. She said she gathered 150 signatures in one day.

When asked what it would mean if the pool were closed, Montgomery said that even though it’s only for the LCC community, the pool’s benefits extend beyond that to the public.

“It’s a teaching facility. We have students that are 80 and students that are 3 years old. We have retirees who come in — it has been a big benefit to the community,” Montgomery said, adding that those trained as a lifeguard take their skills out into the world. “If it’s closed, those are lives that weren’t going to be saved.”