Eisenschmidt Pool ready to reopen on Monday
St. Helens has been around for a long time, initially founded as Plymouth in 1845 and officially renamed "St. Helens" in 1850.
And for much of its existence, Eisenschmidt Pool — which opened way back in 1939 — has been around so area youngsters could learn how to swim and cool off in the summer.
That will be the case again this year — starting Monday, June 22, to be exact — though things will necessarily look a little different in the COVID-19 era.
For Eisenschmidt Pool Manager Anne Scholz and her fellow remaining staff members — Finance Manager Anne Collson and lead staff Emily Barnes — the reopening can't come soon enough. The pool closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic back on March 12 and has remained shuttered for more than three months since.
"We want people back. People are missing the pool. This is a social place," Scholz said. "We want people back and I want my staff back really badly. I miss them terribly."
What reopening looks like
The pool, open to Columbia County residents only, will operate from 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays each week, with no hours on weekends for now. The pool will be open for lap swim and Water Walking only at a cost of $5 per person; memberships will not be active initially, though staff aims to honor those once the pool's schedule and budget stabilize.
Normally, the spring and summer months at Eisenschmidt see 300 to 500 people per day visit the pool; because of social distancing regulations, however, the pool will allow just one lap swimmer per lane in the deep end of the pool (though up to three members of the same household may share a lane), while the small pool will be divided into quadrants for family use.
"That's what we're limiting it to," Scholz said, adding that evolving guidance from the state will likely lead to further changes. "But we'll be flexible and it will probably change next week."
The locker rooms and showers — excluding those on the pool deck — will be closed so swimmers will have to arrive and leave in their swim suits. Restrooms will remain open.
Some of the other changes necessitated by the global pandemic are: pool staff will wear face masks during all work hours; all visitors will be encouraged to follow social distancing guidelines; and all visitors will be encouraged to wear face masks when not in the pool.
While Eisenschmidt will not immediately offer swim lessons, Scholz said that eventual plans include at least private lessons.
"That's why we're here," she said. "That's why this pool was built (because of St. Helens' proximity to the Columbia River) and why it was developed — to teach people how to swim."
Eisenschmidt wasn't scheduled for maintenance or repair work this spring — along with summer, one of the two busiest seasons of the year — but chance and opportunity came together at the end of May.
With the pool already closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and the boilers turned off to save electricity, Scholz got a call from the city of St. Helens telling her that the pool's water usage was on the rise.
"The pool was closed so we should have been using less water, but we came to the conclusion that … we had turned the boiler off, so when the water gets cold, the concrete shrinks and we figured we were leaking out of the concrete," Scholz said.
But turning the boilers back on did not solve the problem. One month later, the city called again and reported that Eisenschmidt had nearly doubled its normal water use, a development that immediately sent up red flags for Scholz, Collson and Barnes.
"We used the amount of water that (almost) would have drained and filled this pool twice. That's how much we used in one month," Scholz said, noting that the pool holds 230,000 gallons. "So we panicked at that point and started isolating all the systems, and we found fairly early on that filter pit number one — it should have been … completely full of water — drained in four hours."
Further investigation and testing by pool staff confirmed that filter pit number one — one of three gravity sand filters that continuously clean the pool's water — was the source of the water leak.
Over the course of the ensuing two weeks, pool staff discovered that the leak was located in a 6-inch pipe buried below a filter pit filled with 3 feet of sand, 6 inches of pea gravel and 2 feet of 1 1/2-inch round rocks.
In that same two weeks, a crew from the city of St. Helens completely emptied filter pit number one, plumbing experts from Charter Mechanical in Portland repaired and relocated the 6-inch pipe, and Scholz, Collson, Barnes and a crew of volunteers refilled the pit, a task that included 320 bags of sand at 50 pounds each, not to mention the pea gravel and round rocks.
"We ended up coming up with a plan and we completely replaced the whole system," Scholz said. "We sealed off the (pipes) down below and put a new pipe in above ground."
"It's unbelievable the amount of thought that went into (the filtration system)," Collson said.
Staff also gave the pool a thorough cleaning during the shutdown, repaired a few other leaky pipes and began work on a gap loan to help Eisenschmidt during these tenuous financial times.
What's been lost
As excited as the pool's staff is to reopen, it's hard not to consider the many things lost during the shutdown. While repairs to the pool would have closed its doors for two weeks anyway, Eisenschmidt has now been shut down for more than three months, including some of its most lucrative business months.
Scholz said she couldn't estimate how much income had been lost during the shutdown, but did say that the pool's annual budget had to be reduced by $80,000 while still facing that $20,000 repair bill. At the same time, the pool board approved salary increases for all three of the full-time staff members at the pool, but all three declined those cost of living raises to help with Eisenschmidt's budget woes.
Also lost during the shutdown were the jobs of 22 lifeguards (most of them young adults), club swimming, pool parties, swim lessons for 150 people per month in the spring and as many as 240 to 250 people per month in the summer, and the chance to install a new therapy hot tub outside on the deck.
"There's no way to know, but we lost everything. This is our busy season," Scholz said. "We have no income coming in at all and we have a $20,000 repair to pay for. We lost all of that. Spring is our busy time and our main money-making time — spring and summer — and we've lost all of that."
As painful as the shutdown and losses have been, there are bright sides in the life of Eisenschmidt Pool and its staff, too.
The prospect of reopening has lifted everyone's spirits, the repair work went perfectly ("The water is looking beautiful. You can see a dime at the bottom of the deep end and the filters are working perfectly now," Scholz said), and the chance to serve its patrons — Portland pools and Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation pools remain closed — is huge.
The pool's staff is also hopeful that they may recoup at least some of its losses in the fall; this fall, Eisenschmidt will remain open for 2-5 weeks when it would normally shut down for annual maintenance and repairs.
"We're just so fortunate we don't have to stay closed," Collson said. "At least we've been able to stay open and everything is still working at this point."
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