URI reopens pools at Tootell Physical Education Center

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Crews raced to repair damage caused by historic March, April floods

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 4, 2010 – The University of Rhode Island has reopened its instructional and competitive swimming pools at its Tootell Physical Education Center. The third part of the facility, the diving well, is expected to be opened in a matter of days.

The reopening of the aquatic center follows extensive efforts during the past 10 weeks by URI to get the facility operating after the record-breaking rains in March and April caused widespread flooding across the state.

The deluges caused the water table under the athletics complex on the west side of the Kingston Campus to flood the filter room in the Tootell Center. The 4-foot-deep water caused the filter room floor to buckle and damage filtration equipment for all three pools. The flooding initially kept crews from beginning cleanup and repairs.

Early in the process, URI officials weighed heavily the option of moving the filter equipment to another location. The estimated cost for the move and new equipment to replace damaged units would have been about $250,000.

“In challenging budget times, that great an expenditure would have been difficult for the University,” said Harry Davis, URI’s assistant director of Facilities Services. “We were able to complete all the necessary work in the current location, and so we now expect the cost to range between $70,000 and $75,000.”

The flooring has been repaired and the filters all have new motors and other equipment. All of the equipment is now functioning. URI personnel are in the final stages of correcting the water chemistry in the diving pool.

That’s great news for the hundreds of URI students, faculty and staff who use the complex, as well as the 500 area residents who use it for swimming lessons, lifeguard training and senior swim programs. For full details on aquatics at Tootell go to http://www.uri.edu/athletics/recservices/aquaticprograms.html.

“We are back in business, and I can tell all of our patient clients that the University did everything possible to get the systems up and running,” said Jodi Hawkins, URI’s director of Recreational Services. “We are most grateful for the understanding shown by the URI and surrounding communities during this very challenging period. Well after the flooding subsided, we were working hard to repair the damage caused by such historic storms.”

She said the competition pool, where the URI swim teams and local high schools train and compete and individuals swim laps, opened May 24. The instructional pool, where most lessons are taught, opened June 1. Customers who were taking lessons or involved in other programs when the center was closed have been given a credit for future programs. Tootell pass holders were credited for the inconvenience.

“I have nothing but high praise for the URI staff, those in Facilities Services, including the plumbers and electricians, who worked so hard to help us reopen,” Hawkins said.

She also said her own staff members Stephanie McCullick, coordinator of aquatics, and Sheila O’Connor, aquatics specialist, put in extra time performing well beyond their normal duties.

“Sheila was great working with our customers, trying to help them find alternatives or just trying to keep them informed,” Hawkins said. “Stephanie has been in the pool and filter room areas constantly, working with the contractors and URI facilities people.”

Local businesses also helped during the crisis with their pool facilities. “The South County YMCA picked up a lifeguard training review class, and it accepted some of our individual customers,” she said. “The Hampton Inn in South County Commons also pitched in by letting us finish up a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor class there.”

Mick Westkott, URI’s head coach of women’s swimming and diving is also breathing a sigh of relief that the facility has reopened, as are members of the URI men’s club team.

“Our women swimmers and divers endured a spring workout without water by doing lots of cross training,” Westkott said. “Who would believe that these athletes, who spend up to four hours a day in the water throughout the season would have felt so lost without their water for so long? But they did. Needless to say we are happier that we are now back in.”

Westkott is also happy that his competitive summer swim camp, which enters its second year, can be held as planned. “Because of questions about the pool, registrations have been a bit slow. But it’s a great camp, and we encourage young swimmers to register for the camp that runs June 27 to July 1.”

Those interested in the camp can contact Westkott directly by e-mail Swim@etal.uri.edu or by phone 874-2005. They can find registration forms at the GoRhohdy.com web site. They should click on Inside Athletics, and then click on Camps. Finally, there is plenty of information down at the Tootell Aquatic Center.