School Board OKs use of pool pending reinspection

WOODSTOCK – The fate of three local high school swim teams took a step in a positive direction for athletes, coaches and parents on Thursday night.

The Shenandoah County School Board voted unanimously to approve the use of the Signal Knob Recreation Center’s indoor pool facility for the upcoming high school winter sports season, pending the facility’s approval in a future inspection done by the Virginia Department of Health.

Swim teams from Central, Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new piece of equipment to the facility to ensure that the pool is meeting the state’s standards for turnover rate, which refers to the amount of time it takes for the pumping and filtration systems to cycle all of the water in the pool once.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley said during Thursday’s meeting that an updated report from the health department confirming the facility meets state standards needs to be received no later than 4:30 p.m. Oct. 19 for the county’s schools to proceed with the 2015-16 swimming season.

Central swim coach Steve Shaffer, who is also the president of the Shenandoah County Swim League, said following the vote the situation is “out of our hands.”

“It sounds very simple. If that part gets here in time, gets installed and then confirms that the flow rate is proper, then we just won,” Shaffer said.

“They were saying that today was the vote, that was it. Now they’re giving us 10 more days.”

An environmental health evaluation report conducted by Herbert Cormier of the state health department on Sept. 18 contained two different measurements of turnover rate from the Signal Knob facility: a 12.5-hour rate for a 120,000 gallon pool and a 9.75-hour rate for a 93,600 gallon pool. Shaffer said after the meeting that the latter measurement was the confirmed reading from the Signal Knob Recreation Center pool. State standards require that the pool have a turnover rate of eight hours.

Raley noted during the meeting that the facility is tied to the nearby Ramada Inn – both owned by Jerry King – and is held to a different standard than a members-only facility.

Concerns surrounding the safety of the recreation center’s indoor pool facility – used by all three county high schools for swim team practices and home meets – arose in mid-August when Raley personally visited the building. Raley took his concerns to the School Board during its September meeting and recommended that the schools stop using the facility.

A joint effort between King and the county’s swim league have addressed most of the safety concerns, Shaffer said.

A fire inspection conducted by Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson on Tuesday – his third inspection of the facility since Aug. 24 – found “all life safety items to be in working order,” according to Ferguson’s report. The report added that the only outstanding violation was that the building’s fire extinguishers had not been certified and a future inspection will be conducted to “verify fire extinguisher compliance.”

“Needless to say we face a very difficult situation. We have clearance by the fire marshal. We have clearance by the building inspector. But the health department still has issues specifically with the turnover and flow rate of that pool,” Raley said during the meeting.

Alternatives to using the Signal Knob facility this season included busing swimmers outside the county, and the options were narrowed down to Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg or Bridgewater College. However, doing so would result in an estimated increase of $9,944 and $28,560 respectively, to the current annual cost of $18,794 to operate all three high school programs, and Raley told the School Board Thursday his recommendation was “Signal Knob or none” while citing the school system’s growing budget restraints.

Raley’s recommendation also asked that the Shenandoah County Swim League cover the entire cost of renting the pool, an estimated cost of $8,000. The league voted in September to donate $16,000 to aid the schools’ funding of the high school programs this winter.

Shaffer said he was working on a “plan B” that involved using the Valley Health facility in Winchester but didn’t receive confirmation until Thursday evening, when it was too late.

Raley, who emphasized his concerns were solely about the safety of the student athletes and were not politically motivated, said he would consider the high school swim program “suspended” for the season if the Signal Knob facility doesn’t receive proper approval, noting it wouldn’t necessarily mean a death sentence for the schools’ swim teams.

“I greatly appreciate that terminology,” Shaffer said. “We’ve had just as many meetings trying to get something in place for next year.”

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