His T-shirt visibly damp, Corey Cain wiped his brow after pumping out the last of the debris and sediment that had settled at the bottom of Augusta’s largest outdoor public swimming pool, the 280,000-gallon Jones Pool south of downtown.
“Heat and sweat,” the maintenance supervisor said of the elements he battles every summer to prep the city’s outdoor pools.
When the lifeguard whistle blows today, Augusta’s public pools will officially open for the season.
There will be the usual sights and sounds of summer – cerulean basins and Marco Polo, goggled faces and splash fights.
Less evident will be the weeks of preparation by parks departments in Augusta and Aiken, which spent more than $21,500 to ready filtration systems, train lifeguards, and patch and paint cracked tile and stained surfaces at the two cities’ four public pools. Columbia County does not have a community pool.
With each of the pools’ construction dating back to the 1960s, aquatics supervisors say the job takes bottles of bleach, a basic knowledge of chemistry and about two people working full time for three weeks to get the Jones, Fleming and Dyess pools in Augusta and the Aiken County pool in Graniteville up and running and looking new.
“It takes a lot of work,” said Augusta’s Aquatics supervisor Roger Wexler. “While we keep all pumps and filters circulating during the offseason, our outdoor pools basically sit dormant except for eight or nine weeks of the year. As far as swimmable, they are obviously not.”
Unlike in past years, Augusta’s three pools received significant makeovers.
The Jones Pool on Holley Street was repainted from a faded algae green to a light ocean blue at a cost of $900. The 250,000-gallon Fleming Pool on Lumpkin Road received a $1,200 pressure washing. And the 150,000-gallon Dyess Pool had a new $1,500 pump installed.
All were equipped with more than $15,000 in handicap lifts and stairs to bring the structures up to code according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On a normal year, Cain said, pools require only some scrubbing to pump them clean of algae and bacteria and pass a county health inspection.
“I was constantly moving and had to be at multiple places at once,” Cain said of the demands of this year’s renovations, which are in addition to annual inspections of safety equipment and first aid supplies and the hiring and training of 15 new lifeguards. “You can’t take long breaks.”
Aiken County is three years removed from the last major facelift it gave its public pool at the recreation center on Jefferson Davis Highway.
In 2010, the 90,000-gallon pool had its deck redone. That was on top of the long list of steps taken to make sure the Graniteville pool is ready for its June 8 opening.
First, the pool, which is turned off during the offseason to save money, is drained. Then, the surface is cleaned with “lots of bleach,” cracked tile is patched and a fresh coat of paint is applied, said Tandra Cooks, the facility supervisor at the Aiken County Recreation Center.
Then the pool is refilled and all chemicals are balanced at a pH of around 7.8 and a chlorine level of 3.5 parts per million, Cooks said.
“It’s time-consuming,” Cooks said. “It’s hot out there and with an all-white pool, the bottom can be blinding.”
But Cooks, 33, said the pool is worth the effort.
Cooks learned how to swim at the pool when she was 2 and is brought joy when another young child does the same each year.
“The pool has needed some repairs over the years, but overall it’s holding up for its age,” Cooks said. “I just hope I am not jinxing myself.”