County swim teams win approval to use rec center this winter

The swim teams from Shenandoah County’s three public high schools will compete this winter.

After spending over a week awaiting the installment of a new piece of equipment at the indoor pool facility of the Signal Knob Recreation Center in Strasburg and the subsequent re-inspection of the facility by the Virginia Department of Health, swim team members of Central, Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg high schools received the news they were hoping for Monday afternoon when the health department’s inspection deemed the facility fit for the programs’ use this winter.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley confirmed in an email Monday afternoon “our school division teams will be using the Signal Knob Rec Center for practices this year.”

Steve Shaffer, Central’s swim coach and president of the Shenandoah County Swim League, said Monday the pool passed.

“So that’s the last hurdle for the School Board approval with the exception of the cosmetic work that the league has promised to do, so we’ll kick that into action this week, next week,” he said.

Uncertainty about the future of Shenandoah County’s swim program arose following Raley’s visit to the recreation center in August during which he observed numerous safety concerns – including issues with water quality in the pool and the air quality inside the facility – and suggested at a School Board meeting in September that the high schools stop using the pool.

With the schools’ 2015-16 swim season in jeopardy, the Shenandoah County Swim League partnered with the recreation center’s owner, Jerry King, to address most of the safety concerns. However, a health department inspection on Sept. 18 revealed the pool’s flow rate (the amount of time it takes for the pumping and filtration systems to cycle all of the water in the pool once) did not meet state standards.

The School Board voted unanimously on Oct. 8 to allow the teams to use the recreation center this season pending the health department’s approval once a new flow meter that could verify the pool’s turnover rate was installed. Raley set a deadline of 4:30 p.m. Monday for the health department’s documented approval.

In a copy of the health department’s evaluation report from Monday’s inspection, provided by Shaffer, the pool’s flow rate was observed to be six hours, an acceptable rate. The state turnover-rate requirement is eight hours.

“At this point the tentative victory we had (Oct. 8) has come to fruition, however not without a little bit of drama,” Shaffer said.

That “drama,” according to Shaffer, included a series of circumstances that delayed the re-inspection last week.

Shaffer said King discovered on Oct. 13 that the new flow meter he had ordered the week before was not scheduled to arrive until this week, prompting King to re-order another flow meter that arrived overnight and was installed last Wednesday. However, a health department inspection couldn’t be scheduled until last Friday, and a power outage in Strasburg that affected the Signal Knob Recreation Center that day prohibited the verification of the pool’s flow rate.

Health department inspectors came back to the facility on Monday and concluded their work at 2:25 p.m. according to the report, just two hours before Raley’s deadline.

“We’re very appreciative of the effort of the swim league and Ina Rae Crisman, the coach at Strasburg, as well as the Kings,” Shaffer said. “Everybody really went above and beyond to get all this accomplished.”

Shaffer said the facility still has some “cosmetic” work to be done, including the removal of loose insulation hanging from the ceiling and the installation of a baseboard on the walls around the pool where rust has been observed. The Shenandoah County Swim League will handle those improvements, he said.

Shaffer said he and other members of the swim league will take Raley on a walkthrough of the facility during the first week of November. Practice for the high school swim season starts Nov. 9.

“We’re thrilled to have crossed this hurdle and met the School Board’s request,” Shaffer said. “Again we certainly want to thank Dr. Raley for putting the safety of the swimmers first. Obviously we’re in there breathing the same air so we appreciate all that effort. The pool is significantly in better shape now.”

Shaffer stated previously that the Shenandoah County Swim League is exploring long-term options for next swim season and beyond, which include the possibility of building a new indoor pool facility in the county or placing a bubble over one of the existing pools in Strasburg, Woodstock or New Market.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com