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Medford considers closing pools

Two of Medford's best places to beat summer's heat, Jackson and Hawthorne pools, are crumbling, and city officials say increasing safety concerns raise the possibility that they could be closed.

"They are extremely popular, and it would be a shame to have to turn people away," said Jerry MacLeod, chairman of the Medford Parks an Recreation Commission. "It would be a crime to have them closed."

The commission recommended recently that Jackson Pool in west Medford be kept open to the public this summer even though an analysis by the city determined it should be closed for general use and kept open only for limited swim lessons. The commission recommended closing the adjacent diving pool this season after three people were cut while using it last summer.

The pools have a long list of problems including worn-out pipes that leak 5,700 gallons of water a day at Jackson and 6,600 gallons at Hawthorne. Cracking concrete and slick surfaces could cause injuries to swimmers. Tile and grout are coming loose at Jackson Pool and exposing sharp edges that could be dangerous. Aclogged sewer line last year closed Jackson Pool for two days. The diving boards at Jackson also were closed when they became too slick.

The City Council will have to decide in the near future whether to spend $101,910 to make basic improvements to the pools. Those repairs won't resolve all the problems,but they would at least offer the possibility that the pools could open.

Some of the repairs are required to meet health and safety requirements. In 2008, a Jackson County health inspector visited Jackson Pool and found safety problems such as irregular and sharp surfaces that need to be fixed at an estimated cost of about $18,050. An additional $16,000 is required to resolve problems at Hawthorne Pool.

Even if the repairs are made, an analysis by the city found no guarantee that new problems could prevent the pools from opening or remaining open. In addition, the pools still would be considered major liabilities for the city.

"We could shut down Jackson in the middle of the season if it gets any worse," said MacLeod.

As the pools deteriorate, they seem to be more popular than ever. In 2008, they entertained 33,394 visitors, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. Jackson Pool had 76 percent of the traffic last year, though swim lessons are more popular at Hawthorne.

Despite the popularity of Jackson Pool, Medford recreation superintendent Rich Rosenthal wrote in a Dec. 9, 2008, memo that the pool, constructed in 1960, "has deteriorated to the point that it is more of a liability than a civic resource."

Hawthorne Pool, built 10 years earlier, actually is in better condition because it was built entirely of concrete and doesn't have any tiles.

Both pools, however, have leaking pipes, valves that can no longer be closed and other problems that could force closures.

"Both of Medford's outdoor pools are susceptible to catastrophic mechanical failures and structural faults that conceivably could prevent them from becoming operational in 2009, or close them prematurely at any point during the swim season," Rosenthal said.

Over the years, maintenance workers have tried to keep pace with the aging steel pipes and general settling of the pools.

When the boiler failed at Hawthorne a few years ago, an old boiler that had been removed from the Santo Community Center was brought over and cobbled together by maintenance workers.

"It's amazing the work these people have done to keep these things open," said MacLeod.

Leaking pipes under Jackson are suspected of causing subsidence, which has led to separation and cracks in the concrete deck.

In addition, the locker areas are in need of major maintenance, lifeguard chairs are rusting at the base, and cement is coming up off the bottom of the pool.

Until the city decides to build a new aquatic center, MacLeod said Jackson Pool is too important a community asset to shut down, particularly with more families struggling these days.

"If we can do it, let's provide as many opportunities to the public as possible," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Structural problems prompted the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission to recommend closure of the dive pool at Jackson Pool in west Medford. - Jim Craven