CHAMPAIGN - Sholem Pool, a daily source of entertainment for a couple of generations of Champaign youths, is nearing the end of its useful life.
Now over 40 years old, the pool lost in the neighborhood of a million gallons of water last summer due to leaks.
Rather than try to prolong the life of the pool, the Champaign Park District board has decided to issue a request for proposals for a wholesale replacement of the pool and water slide.
?Everybody agreed that because of its condition, we'd be better off replacing the facility altogether,? said General Manager Bobbie Herakovich. ?We'll be seeking conceptual designs from firms around the state, firms specializing in aquatic facilities. Right now it's pretty open-ended.?
The park staff will begin drawing up a request for proposal immediately. The request will include a program statement drawn up in consultation with special interest groups and the public. The request should go out within 30 days, she said.
Replacing the pool is a long-term project that will require considerable planning and public input, Herakovich said. Planning and design will likely take at least two years. The time will also allow the district time to reduce its bonded indebtedness and figure out how much it can afford or whether a referendum is needed for a new facility.
Sholem can be kept open and ?limp along? until a new pool is built, she said.
Herakovich said replacing the pool alone at this point would cost in the neighborhood of $2 million. The district hopes to do more than that, with the scope limited by what the community wants and what the district can afford.
?We have a lot of land out there. I'd love to be able to do something that incorporates the hill and fields, and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money,? she said.
At the minimum, the district wants to look at options that include pushing the fences out more, building more creative water play areas, sand volleyball courts and generally more attractive recreational opportunities and more visually appealing landscaping than exists there now. Options such as a lazy river, more interesting slides or even incorporating the hill at Centennial Park may not be out of the question.
?It really could be anything,? said district Operations Director Jim Spencer. ?The designs options are pretty open. I'm hugely in favor of this decision. It's just very appropriate that we take this step given the life of that pool.?
Sholem's age is typical of many municipal swimming pools across the state and country and these decisions are common to many park districts and cities. Lynn McClure, a spokesman for the Illinois Association of Park Districts, said municipal pools built in the late 1950s and 1960s are reaching the end of their natural lives.
?They're concrete. They're painted blue. They get a lot of use. At some point, you can only repair them so much until you have to consider replacement,? she said.
The town of Normal has ripped out its 30-year-old pool and is in the midst of replacing it now with a $3.7 million water park. Ten years ago, Decatur replaced two municipal pools with a competition-level pool and a beach-style pool.
?The possibilities are limited by budget and imagination,? McClure said. ?Water parks of some kind or another, some a combination of indoor and outdoor, are on the plates of a lot of park districts.?
Spencer said Sholem was built with high construction standards at the time, but things wear out.
?When Sholem was built, they did a really great job,? he said. ?It's not modern in design now but that doesn't take away from the fact it was designed to the standard of the time when it was built.?
Sholem was dedicated in 1961. Standards for comfort, entertainment, landscaping, traffic flow, the location of the baby pool as well as construction materials were far different, he said.
The district has invested in the pool to keep it current over the years. In 1973, heating elements were added.
Over time, concessions and the water slide were added. In 1983, the district spent some $430,000 for a new filtration system and an electrical upgrade.
Pool attendance ranges from around 60,000 to 90,000 people a summer depending on the heat and rain. Last year, about 84,000 people were counted.
But last summer brought home the age of the facility. Spencer said the pool lost in the neighborhood of a million gallons of water due to leaks.
The major culprits were in inlets around the divewell that feed the pool. Copper fittings on the inlets disintegrated. The district kept the pool running until the end of the season, then had to excavate through the decking to replace the inlets around the divewell.
The pool is fed by a large pipe around the perimeter of the 525,000-gallon pool. Thirty-seven inlets come off the pipe and into the pool. Spencer said there are close to 30 more inlets around the rest of the pool, and also under the decking, that need replacing. That doesn't include whatever other problems might be discovered once they excavate.
?The bottom line is that we're looking at a pool that's reached its natural life span,? he said. ?The board has taken the perspective that it's time to look at a new pool. This is a really exciting project and we're going to take our time and do it right.?