City transforms down time into shutdown time at The Meadows swimming pools

Before COVID-19 shut down the swimming pools at The Meadows Recreation Centre in March, the plan was to shut down the swimming pools at The Meadows Recreation Centre in September. 

Aquatic centres are marvellously complex places that swimmers don’t have to understand to enjoy. But none of the safe fun happens without healthy structures and machinery—the infrastructure of aquatic centres—that need their own maintenance and repair work every two or three years. 

“And back before COVID happened that was the plan—to shut down the aquatic centre at The Meadows for two months starting in September so we could drain the pools and get all the planned repair and upkeep work done,” said Gary Dewar, who is the Director of The Meadows Community Recreation Centre, as well as Terwillegar and Clareview rec centres.

“But we realized that the September schedule wasn’t going to work,” Dewar said. “So, we changed plans.”

The “we” are colleagues in two City of Edmonton branches: Community and Recreation Facilities and Facility Maintenance Services.

Dive tank and main pool drained for shutdown work

Bad timing avoided

The original plan wasn’t going to work for the obvious bad-timing reason. 

“We didn’t know in March and we still don’t know now when exactly the recreation centres will re-open for Edmontonians to enjoy,” said Dewar, “but can you imagine if September rolled around and we announced that The Meadows pools are in shutdown for repair work because that’s what the original schedule was?”

Dewar and his colleagues in Facility Maintenance Services shook their heads and said no.

“We certainly didn’t want to be in a position in September where the recreation centres were open again and have to say to the patrons who love The Meadows, sorry, it’s September now and it’s closed because it was scheduled to be closed.”

So, the City team changed the story. 

Window of opportunity

Now, instead of September, the shutdown work at The Meadows has started in mid-May. It will take a couple of months. The new schedule takes advantage of the time the facility is, like all the City’s indoor recreation and leisure centres, still closed.  

If the City’s rec centres are still ordered closed when the shutdown work is done, the plan will have avoided any extra lost time for The Meadows patrons. If the rec centres are allowed to open, the shutdown work under way now will dent the time the pools were not available. 

The Meadows leisure pool prepped for shutdown work

Down time into shutdown time

The idea is to turn the down time into shutdown time, so that each of the three systems of the pools—water circulation, water filtration, water treatments—get dedicated attention.

“Regular maintenance at facilities happens throughout the year, and the shutdowns happen at leisure centres and arenas every two years, and in amenities at the bigger recreation centres like Commonwealth, Clareview, Terwillegar and The Meadows on a three-year-cycle,” said Ron Morissey, a City Operations Project Superintendent. 

“The shutdowns are planned and they’re hugely important,” said Morissey. “So much of what makes a pool fun and enjoyable is in the background or in the basement, and what we’re doing now at The Meadows lets us get to those systems.” 

Moveable floor pool drained at The Meadows

Morissey listed off some of the pool components getting maintenance, repair and deep cleaning during The Meadows shutdown: circulation pumps, filtration, water treatment, underwater lighting, overhead lighting, basin tiles, skimmer trenches, dive tower, diving boards, waterslide, change room tiles and deck and the main pool moveable floor mechanical system. 

Bulkhead motor and drive chain, The Meadows

Transparency on water

The first step was to deal with the most obvious element: the water. To give the shutdown workers access to nooks and crannies of the pools and its machinery, the water in the centre’s three pools was drained. All 2,368,000 litres of it.*

“Everything we do is about making the water clean and warm and safe for valued customers here,” said Kevin Arnott, Operations Supervisor at The Meadows.

“To do the things to ensure that safety, we need to take the water out.”

The shutdown provides time for the smaller touches, like repainting the overflow gutter liners that frame each of the pools.

Drained hot tub and gutter liners

And for the bigger pieces of equipment, too. Beneath the pools in the basement, the 16 massive high-rate filtration tanks will be cleaned and in some cases have their sand replaced, and their check valves inspected.

Sand filtration tanks below pools at The Meadows Rec Centre

The pumps that power the return trip of the aquatic centre water—from the pools to the overflow surge tank to the sand filtration tanks and around and around and around—will be reworked and refitted in the shutdown. 

Pumps tagged for shutdown work

Art of procurement

There is a separate set of skills involved in planning a shutdown, skills that, when a planned shutdown is moved ahead by more than three months, get the spotlight. 

Procurement. 

Getting supplies and labour in place at the right time was a double challenge considering the uncertainty around the tight markets for each in the pandemic. 

“And there was a boatload of work requests coming in from other facilities, too,” said Morissey. “So, we made a schedule and together we made priorities so everything happens in the right order. We feel confident that we’ll be able to get as much of the work done as we can, here at The Meadows in the shutdown, and other work at other facilities, too.” 

scaffolding at Terwillegar Recreation Centre pool

Other locations

At the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre, the timing of shutdown work has also been bumped up. The aquatic centre there was scheduled for planned maintenance from late March to early July. 

“When COVID precautions closed the facility in mid-March we were able to get an early start on the shutdown and, as such, it is expected to be complete in June,” said Dewar. 

Other City facilities are getting deep cleaning, painting and as much preventative maintenance work as possible, said Dewar. 

“Facility Maintenance Services and Community and Recreation Facilities have been making the best of an unfortunate situation by taking advantage of our facilities being closed to give them some well deserved TLC,” said Dewar.

“Our collective efforts will ensure patrons will enjoy sparkling facilities when we eventually re-open,” he said. 

Maintenance work, Terwillegar Rec Centre

*Editor’s note for numbers people who like this stuff, courtesy Josh and Laura at The Meadows: If you were to take all the water drained for the aquatic shutdown and used it to fill standard 590ml water bottles, you’d have 4,013,559 bottles to deal with. If all those bottles were then stacked on top of each other they would reach a height of 88.3km. For perspective, this tower of water bottles would endanger much of the equipment and spacecraft currently in low earth orbit.

Thanks for diving into the story of shutdowns. We hope your day goes swimmingly. 

The Meadows Community Recreation Centre, 2704 17 St NW, Edmonton