While local government officials and activists continue to explore ways to fund repairs at Lansing’s Moores Park Pool, concerns over rising maintenance costs paired with environmental concerns could stall it from reopening.
“It’s a very old pool that leaks in a lot of places,” said Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. “The pool is a community asset that people love, but you have to manage that alongside the damage being done by this leaking. The pool has had some very big problems for a very long time. I’m not interested in having it leak into the Grand River.”
City officials last month announced $1.2 million in “needed” repairs to bring the pool up to speed, including $414,000 to replace the historic concrete railing and patch up the spider-cracked interior, $410,000 to overhaul the plumbing beneath the pool and another $357,000 for a fresh heating system, among other mechanical work.
But in addition to the costly repair bill, a leak sprung last summer caused the pool to lose hundreds of gallons daily, costing the city about $1,400 per week to keep it filled while chlorinated water presumably spilled into the Grand River. And those costs, the unknown nature of the leak and the environmental risks are still an obstacle.
“I’m not going to say it’s not opening until we get a better handle on this,” Schor added. “Nothing is certain.”
With only so much cash to go around for city parks, Schor has been intensely hesitant to commit to funding those repairs through city coffers. His administration has since turned to the community for suggestions, offering no promises on the future of one of the longest continuously operating public pools in the nation.
Meanwhile, Ingham County officials are looking at using some parks and trails millage funds to help rehabilitate the space. Local preservations are also exploring other revenue sources like state grants and private donations. Some Lansing City Council members are willing to keep some skin in the game too — just not for $1 million.
And if state officials are made aware of the leak, they might force the pool to be closed until it’s repaired anyway.
Research from the University of Rhode Island shows how high chloride concentrations in fresh water can harm aquatic organisms by interfering with osmoregulation, the biological process by which they maintain the proper concentration of salt and other solutes in their bodily fluids. It can hinder survival, growth and reproduction.
Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy doesn’t track chlorine levels in the Grand River, but a spokeswoman cautioned that in high concentrations, it could have a negative effect on the stream. “In the case of a leak like this, we’d look at shutting down the pool until the issue could be resolved and we had an action plan for how the city plans to correct the issue,” the spokeswoman said. “We’d then evaluate the potential discharge and follow up. Ultimately, it’d be about establishing a corrective action plan.”
Parks Director Brett Kaschinske said the pool water likely flowed into the sand beneath the pool and later into the Grand River, given its proximity to the riverfront. The discovery was made in July, but officials “didn’t feel there was an environmental issue that warranted it being closed” midway through the summer, Kaschinske said.
“We never really discussed closing the pool early. And I think it would’ve been a bigger and very contentious decision,” Schor said. “We realized it during the season and we’re in the process of finding out more about it.”
Without any hope of patching the leak midway through the summer, city employees were directed to refill the pool. Records show the still-unknown leak ultimately ratcheted up the summertime water bill at Moores Park Pool from $13,866 in 2018 to $28,306 earlier this year, equating to an average weekly cost increase of $1,444.
And city officials, without patching the leak ahead of next season, will be cautious about reopening the pool.
“This wasn’t like it was a tube of water going into the Grand River like a full-on discharge,” Kaschinske added. “But regardless, we will need to address that before the pool reopens. We cannot continue to do what we’ve been doing now that we know about the problem underneath the pool. We should not be losing that much water.”
Schor refused to “say anything definitive” about whether the pool can reopen next season without the repairs. “We’ll need to assess what the problem is and decide what we’re able to do for the next year,” he added. “We’re going to take our time and assess the problem with the pool and make the best decisions we can.”
Fred Cowles, a former environmental engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and president of the Middle Grand River Organization of Watersheds, recognizes the potentially deleterious effects of chlorinated water finding its way into the Grand River, but wasn’t greatly concerned about the impact.
“I’m much more concerned about the raw sewage going into that river than any potential pool water,” Cowles added. “I can’t say it wouldn’t have any impact, but the chances of that water still being chlorinated is fairly uncommon. It neutralizes itself fairly quickly. It’s not a good thing, but it’s not the biggest pollution in there.”