A pool you could eat off of


 Fun Facts

  • Fountain Park Recreation Centre turned 40 this year
  • The facility underwent a major upgrade (including an expansion for dedicated 25-m competition lanes, a new hot tub, and reworked leisure pool) in early 2000 after an eight-month closure
  • That renovation cost $4 million
  • The competition pool holds approximately 650,000 U.S. gallons
  • The leisure pool holds approximately 880,000 U.S. gallons
  • The family wading pool holds approximately 175,000 U.S. gallons
  • The hot tub holds approximately 30,000 U.S. gallons
  • The time to fill the leisure pool is approximately three days but only 10-12 hours for the family pool
  • The last filter renovation was in 2011
  • The rec centre saw 132,515 day admissions in 2016

Ever thought about how many times you can have a bath before you have to clean the scum rings off of the bathtub? Now imagine 100,000 people using it.

You’re probably thinking that the pools at the Fountain Park Recreation Centre do pretty well for only getting a good scrub once every year. The facility recently had its annual spruce up to get everything sparkly clean again and put in some fresh water.

Walking around the four empty pools – the wading pool, the leisure pool, the hot tub, and the competition lanes – is a weird sight. It’s weirder and ickier when you count the bandaids that have been pulled out of the poolside filters. I stopped at 15 before I realized that I really shouldn’t have started.

Thank goodness few people see behind the scenes of a public pool.

“Just because of the age of the facility, there’s a lot that we can only really do once the building has been cleared out by the public and it’s not operational. We can look for those subtle little things that we wouldn’t otherwise see,” explained Shaun Percival, the manager of aquatics services with the city’s Recreation and Parks department.

This year, the regular scrub-a-dub-dub turned into a major project with a deep cleaning of the entire facility, some much needed maintenance work on the water meter, a bit of repair of broken tiles on the pool deck.

Oh yeah, and the installation of new filters for the competition pool and hot tub. That sounds like fair enough reason for the place to be shut down for six weeks. You can’t rush work like this and besides, anything worth doing is worth doing well.

“City of Edmonton pools often you’ll find that their shutdowns are much longer. The reason for that is because there are so many other facilities that can be accessed by members of the public. They also will generally only do shutdowns once every two years. We do annual ones for a few different reasons; one is the age of the facility. It’s 40 years old this year so it does take a bit of extra TLC.”

TLC for the H2O

Pool chemistry is fascinating. I always thought that there some kind of chlorine gas system that was toxic and dangerous but also necessary for the water to keep disinfected. Humans always bring in germs and loose hairs (or bandaids – ick) and chlorine is the only thing that gets rid of it. It’s like bleaching your countertops at home.

It turns out that there is no gas.

“It’s chlorine generated through a process of salt and electricity. They’re salt water pools. It’s much more environmentally friendly. It’s also much more efficient from the perspective of the handling of chemicals to the contact with skin and clothing,” Percival said.

It works like this: the pool is filled and 28 boxes of salt are dumped in before the circulation gets turned on. The pool’s mechanical systems draw the water through and it comes into contact with an electric conduction, which generates the chlorine that is then fed back into the pool.

Dr. Frankenstein would be proud. The only time granular chlorine powder is used is on the rare emergency basis. In other words, diaper failures or dirty swimsuits. Accidents do happen, after all.

“If there is an accident in the water and it can be just dirt going in. It could just be the chemistry is offset. It could be anything. We can add chemical to the pool as a temporary measure until the systems are able to catch back up or until such time as whatever accident may have occurred has been very properly dealt with.”

Keeping it clean

“We take cleaning very seriously. Our staff, from our lifeguards to our swimming instructors all take very diligent care in terms of daily cleaning that we do all over the place.”

Yes, the pool has a scum line where the water rests at the tile level. Percival averred that it gets a daily cleaning. That’s a relief.

For something like the annual spruce up, the first step is to actually increase the chlorine level and flush out the pipes before all the water is treated and disposed of. It’s entirely safe to go straight into the drain, he added, although the city’s utilities department keeps an eye on it anyway, just in case.

Once the pools are empty, staff members go in to take a proper survey of the tile surface up close to see if everything is in good shape or if anything needs to be fixed. After that is complete, then it all gets a good scrubbing, a process that usually takes a few days.

“We’ll dump six or eight lifeguards in the pool. We’ll dress them up in their chemical gear and they’ll scrub. They’ll scrub from top to bottom.”

Once that’s done, they treat it with a chlorine salt that gets rinsed out before the pool gets filled back up. Refilling a pool doesn’t just happen by turning on the faucet either. It’s done slowly and in stages so that the tiles can adjust to the temperature.

After that, it’s up to the filters to keep everything crystal clear.

Not your average filter

Filters can last 10 to 15 years, maybe more depending on the type and how much the pool gets used.

Fountain Park is still finishing up installing new sand filters that will last longer even if the sand has to get replaced probably in 10 years. New sand will just get put in and the filter will continue humming along like business as usual. It’s not sand right off the beach either. It’s much finer than that to allow for maximal water cleaning.

There’s a room filled with six filtration units, each looking like a large barrel on stilts. They work in tandem with each other: one set of two filters takes care of the hot tub and the wading pool, while another set of four takes care of the larger leisure and competition pools.

These are hard-working units too. They operate at a level where the entirety of the water in the leisure pool can experience complete turnover every three hours.

Every few days, they do a backwash, which involves manually changing the direction of the water to spin it around and give the sand a bath. Cleaner sand means cleaner water. Percival noted that even this would need to happen much less frequently than before “just because of how strong and how large” the filters are.

While the leisure and wading pools have been reopened for almost two weeks now, the competition pool and hot tub will remain closed until Oct. 1. That’s not much more to wait for the chance to swim some lanes or soak in some of the cleanest recreational waters around.


About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.