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Time to fish or cut bait in Canton swimming pool dilemma

fr cantonpoolThe decrepit state of Canton’s aging outdoor swimming pool has left town leaders with two options — bulldoze it and build a new one or simply close it.


An independent engineering study showed the base price for replacing the pool would be less than $400,000. Repairing the existing one would cost almost as much — about $320,000 — and wouldn’t have nearly the life span, so that option isn’t being considered.

The pool is nearly 70 years old — and its age is showing. Town workers patch and mend the pool every year, first draining it and then climbing into the empty bed with buckets of fresh concrete in hand to fill cracks.

But, the temporary fixes would only buy so many years until the inevitable — the pool will eventually reach the end of its useful lifespan.

Each year, new, sometimes larger, cracks appear. And the problems are bigger than just the cracks. The earth under the pool bed has eroded, leaving an unstable foundation under the pool. And, the pipes are leaking water, forcing the town to top off the pool daily.

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Canton leaders began talking about the fate of the pool a couple of years ago, but no decisions were made. As the pool’s condition continues to decline, its future rests with the current board of aldermen.

An independent study by McGill Associates consulting firm evaluated the cost of having its pool professionally repaired versus the price of ripping out the dilapidated pool and installing a new one. McGill Associates presented its findings to the town board last week.

According to the report, there is no doubt that the town would be better off replacing the pool — that is, if town leaders want to keep operating an outdoor pool.

“That report told me what everyone was thinking — that pool is not repairable. It’s not worth repairing,” said Aldermen Jimmy Flynn, who supports building a new pool.

There are no guarantees when it comes to fixing the current pool. For an estimated $313,000, a contractor would inject a high-density resin into the cracks, coat the pool floor with a layer of plaster and test the foundation under the pool for deficiencies.

But, there is no telling how long such a Band-Aid would last, and the cost would not include repairs to leaky pipes or any work to shore up the ground beneath the pool should any structural problems be found. The report also figured that Canton uses about $75,000 worth of water annually because of leaks in the pipes.

Everyday, pool employees had to fill the pool with more water because of cracks and leaks, said Flynn, who worked at the pool for 10 years before he was elected alderman.

“It takes a lot of money,” Flynn said.

By comparison, the base price of replacing the main pool and kiddy pool is about $389,000.

The estimate includes demolishing the current pools and decking, rebuilding the foundation and installing new pools, piping and a deck — the concrete pad and walkways around the pool.

However, the replacement pool suggested in the McGill report would be smaller and shallower than the current one, which is currently the largest outdoor swimming pool west of Asheville.

It’s 7,200 square feet and reaches depths of 10 feet. The new pool would only be 5,100 square feet and reach a maximum of five feet deep, which would mean no more diving board.

The report states that most pools have done away with diving boards for liability reasons. Indeed, Canton is one of the last outdoor pools in the mountains that still has one.

Alderman Ed Underwood questioned whether young kids would still want to go to the pool if it did not have a diving board. Even though Canton has one of the most visited pools in the area, Underwood said he thinks visitation has dwindled compared to decades past.

“It’s not like what it used to be when I was young, but we have more going on,” he said.

Although town leaders have not scheduled any public hearings yet, Underwood said they would like to hear what people want before making any decisions about whether to fund the pool’s replacement.

“There are some people out there who don’t even care if we have a pool,” Underwood said.

Money is a big part of Underwood’s hesitation.

“I think everyone would like to see one there if we can afford to pay for it,” Underwood said.

The cost of a new pool aside, simply operating the pool is a drain on town resources. Canton charges $3 a day for entry, but it is not enough to cover its expenses.

Last year, the pool brought in about $55,000 from admissions but spent more than $150,000 on overhead and operations for the pool.

Other aldermen were more supportive of keeping the pool up and running.

“I think it is a great benefit. It gives kids something to do,” said Alderman Patrick Willis. “We are providing service for the folks who live in the county.”

If town leaders do decide to rebuild the pool, the board will also have to mull over whether to add special features.

The town could pay extra for waterpark features such as a slide, mushroom water fountains or tumble buckets that flip over, spilling water when full — which could add thousands dollars more to the price tag.

Slides can run $10,000 to $20,000 a piece, and mushroom fountains, depending on the size, may range from $10,000 to $15,000. On the flip side, fountains that spray water up, out of the concrete, are only about $1,000.

Despite increased cost, the aldermen were in agreement that they would like to see something more than just a pool, especially since diving would no longer be allowed.

“It would be nice for smaller kids. I think we should look at things that diversify the pool experience,” said Willis, who has two young children of his own.

Along with the pool, the accompanying pool house and concession stand need a facelift as well, just not as extreme. Canton Town Manager Al Matthews said improvements to those structures — such as a new coat of paint or a new ventilation system — could be handled in-house.

“Not a significant expense compared to the cost of pool replacement,” Matthews said.

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