'We paid for finished product that isn't finished' as Mitchell Indoor Aquatic Center shut down for repairs

·5 min read

Sep. 2—MITCHELL — Once again, Mitchell's Indoor Aquatic Center is out of commission.

Throughout the past month, the multimillion-dollar pool has been a construction site instead of a recreation opportunity like it was built for in 2018.

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the latest issue that's caused the pool closure is due to the surfacing that's been "falling apart."

"There is a coating that is kind of like a plaster, and it's been coming off in areas around the pool. Water was getting in behind it and causing more to come off," Everson said of the surfacing problems. "We have completely taken the old surface off the competition and the recreation pool. We're down to the old concrete base. We are evaluating why it was delaminating to figure out what the issue is."

The 22,635-square-foot facility that sits next to the Recreation Center is in its fourth year of existence, and there have already been a handful of structural issues that have prompted city officials to close the pair of pools for repair work.

Considering the pool project came with an $8 million price tag, Everson said the ongoing problems with the Indoor Aquatic Center are frustrating. As he put it, "The city paid for a finished product that isn't finished."

Puetz Build + Design was the contractor tabbed to oversee the construction of the new pool in 2018. Puetz selected Acapulco Pools, a Canada-based company with over four decades of experience in concrete pool building, to take on the construction of the leisure and competition pools. MSH Architects also had a hand in the design of the project.

Mark Puetz, CEO of Puetz, said the issue with the plaster surfacing is currently being repaired. The plaster that was applied by a subcontractor to the pool surfacing is also under warranty, according to Puetz.

While there was plenty of excitement when the new aquatic facility was being built, the finished product experiencing problems early on wasn't exactly what some city leaders hoped for. In the first year of operation, Everson said plaster along the pool surfaces began experiencing problems and delaminating.

"The initial delamination began when the pool was under the first year of the warranty," Everson said.

Initially, the repair work was anticipated to take roughly a month, according to a July memo from the Parks and Recreation Department. However, that changed when crews began working on the surfacing.

"Puetz Construction went forward looking at things and found out that this might be a little bit of a bigger issue than we initially thought," Everson said.

The Parks and Recreation Department notified the public this week of the new issues discovered in the pool in an apologetic-toned memo stating, "Getting these issues corrected will, unfortunately, take more time than was originally anticipated."

As crews have been working on repairing the pool for over a month, who will be on the hook for footing the bill? And what's the cost of the latest repair work?

City Attorney Justin Johnson said he's been working through the process of establishing how the costs of repair work will be paid. In addition, Johnson said the details of the pool warranties — which are written agreements that promise a manufacturer of a product will repair or replace it for a respective purchaser — are also in the process of being worked out.

Puetz said the ongoing repair work that's being done on the pools will be covered by contractors.

The totality of repair work and costs have yet to be determined, Everson noted. Regardless of the final costs when the repairs are wrapped up, Everson emphasized that the city should have "no financial duty" to pay for any of the work.

"We paid for a perfectly good pool, and we're not getting a perfectly good pool. Therefore, the city has no financial duty to pay for this," Everson said.

The indoor aquatic center has seen a fair share of use among swimmers since opening, according to city officials. The competition pool also serves as the home pool of the Dakota Riptide swimming club that consists of Mitchell and Huron area competitive swimmers. But the avid pool-goers have been without the indoor aquatic facility for a little over a month.

The longer the pool is shut down, the longer it eliminates its ability to generate any revenue.

Although the addition of the pool was met with strong support among city leaders, the project had its fair share of opponents when the aquatic facility was proposed in 2015 by the Mitchell Aquatic Club — a group that has since merged with Dakota Riptide.

The Mitchell City Council approved the funding package in August 2015, but the decision was referred by residents to a special election. The project narrowly passed later that year with 54% of voters casting ballots to approve it. A total of 2,653 ballots were cast during the special election for the pool project, marking less than 30% of Mitchell's voters at the time.

The project was funded with $4.8 million in city surplus funds, along with $750,000 from community project reserves. A loan payment of $500,000 from the Mitchell Area Development Corporation, and contributions from the Mitchell Aquatic Club and increased Business Improvement District taxes, covered the final $2 million. The city is on pace to have the indoor aquatic center completely paid off in 2023.

As for when the pool will reopen, Everson said it's yet to be determined, adding that it hinges on how the investigation into the surfacing issues concludes.

"It may not be an easy fix, or it may not be a hard fix. We don't know yet," Everson said. "They are working towards getting it done to meet the pool standards and city's standards."