The Nome Swimming Pool remains closed until all the new filtration system is fully installed.

Myriad of issues delays pool re-opening

The Nome Pool is still undergoing its overhaul process changing from a saltwater system to a chlorine system.
The project began in summer 2023 and encountered several setbacks, pushing the pool re-opening back several months to a newly targeted opening date sometime around end of February or early March.
For years, the pool was plagued with mechanical issues and water leaks that led to mysteriously disappearing water, as lifeguards arrived to an empty pool one day and couldn’t explain where all the water went overnight.
 After investigations into the malfunctions of the pool, the city hired an expert, Bob Walker with Polar Pools out of Anchorage, who broke the news to the council in August 2022 that the pool is near catastrophic failure. The culprit: salt. The pool was built in 1981 and used a traditional model of chlorine sanitization until in 2006 the system was converted to a saltwater system, in which salt (sodium chloride) is converted into chlorine using a chlorine generator to kill the bacteria, algae and viruses that may contaminate the pool. The piping and pump components of the pool were not designed for the salt disinfection system and corrosion has eaten away at the sanitation and circulation equipment to the point where it’s failing. The city in 2022 contracted with Bob Walker of Polar Pools, who is the head contractor for the overhaul and coordinates with other sub-contractors working on retrofitting the chlorine system.
The current overhaul back to a chlorine system will give the pool 20 to 25 more years of life, City Manager Glenn Steckman said.
Switching water systems for 148,000-gallon pool is a complicated process according to City of Nome Director of Parks and Recreation Chip Leeper. City Manager Steckman invited the Nugget for a look in the inner workings of machinery room.
The room is accessed by a squeaky metal ladder leading to a space under the pool deck filled with an elaborate network of piping. Tubes coming down from the ceiling, snake through the air, connect to and pass through multiple machines.
Standing among the newly refurbished operating system, Leeper described how a decision to switch the pool from chlorine to saltwater 15 years ago caused the problems this overhaul is trying to fix.
“Originally it was all iron pipes which is ludicrous that our foreleaders thought this would be a great thing to introduce saltwater,” Leeper said “Everything corroded until we got to the point where if we kept it up, we weren’t gonna have a pool anymore it would be an empty sinkhole.”
The room is shared with Nome Public Schools hot water tanks, air and temperature control system in addition to the pool machinery. NPS recently did an upgrade to their control system, coinciding with the pool upgrade, which impacted the timeline as both entities could not work on their upgrades at the same time.
“It’s difficult because they both [pool contractor and NPS control system operators] cannot work in the same space at the same time so that lengthened the project for us,” Steckman said.

So, how does the sanitation system work?
To clean the pool, water comes through grates and two drains located in and around the pool and is brought to strainers via circulation pumps. One part of the pump is a boot, or a specialized connector, designed to withstand the high pressure. Of the two boots in Nome’s pool system, one has been replaced. The other part is ordered with an expected arrival of early February. This is one hold up in the project but may not impact completion if the existing boot can hold up until its replacement arrives, Leeper said.
The strainers are the first step in the process of cleaning the water, removing large objects like band aids and hair ties. Then the water is pushed through newly installed pipes and into a sand filter which removes medium-sized debris, things like hairs and organic material. The sand filter is the only main component to the pool filtration system that didn’t need replacement. The last step of the cleaning process is the ozone which kills any material that wasn’t destroyed in the first two straining processes like bacteria and viruses.
Once the water is clean it is pushed through more piping, heating it to 84°F to 86°F. The final steps are adding chlorine and the concentrated muriatic acid which balances the water pH.
A big part of the pool project was switching the maintenance system from manual to electronic so Leeper can virtually control and modify the pool system from a remote location.  Prior to the repairs, Steckman said, “It had reached the point where I no longer felt it was safe for public employees to operate there and it was going to be shut down. You know, we would have had to shut the pool down no matter what, even if the repairs had not been proceed. The chemicals that were being used are quite hazardous.”

What needs to be done
The project is all but finalized except for a couple pipe fittings which were damaged in the shipping process and had to be reordered.
“Some people were trying to see if they could locally fabricate the parts, but they’re really specialized and the only people who make this stuff is the manufacturer,” Leeper said.
The new parts should arrive by the end of this week according to Walker. The current plan is for Walker and his team to come to Nome January 22 and finalize the project with his plumber and electrician. Once that’s complete, Leeper will turn on the machinery and, determine if the boot is stable for the time being or if it’s necessary to wait until the replacement part’s arrival in February. This is when they will begin the process of heating up the water to a temperate 84°F which takes about a week to achieve.
The next step would be for the multiple manufacturers of the systems parts to come to Nome and sign off on the machinery being correctly installed. This is important to making sure the pool’s warranty is legitimate and not something that can be rushed through, Steckman said. The manufacturers will also train Leeper and his team on proper maintenance.
Finally, the process of recertifying lifeguards with the American Red Cross will take place as many of their certifications will have expired.
“There’s a lot more going on than just a ‘pool upgrade,” Steckman said. “It’s a little more complicated than I personally believe it should be, but I know this is the right thing to do to extend the pool’s life and I’m satisfied with the work I’m seeing.”
This is only the first phase in fixing the pool. The gutter systems were also corroded by the saltwater system and the next step would be replacing them. For now, the city is focused on getting the pool operational again, though it will be too late for the swim team to participate in their season.
In 2022, Walker’s proposal without the gutter system replacement listed a price of $481,508. The costs, according to City Manager Steckman, are now $530,000. Steckman said the funding came from a patchwork of grants, including a NSEDC outside entity grant and some of the NSEDC community share benefit.
During Monday’s Nome Common Council meeting, community member Sophia Pantelis brought her daughter Demi and Nome Northstar Swim Team member Kinley Knipfer to address the council. Pantelis said the children are disappointed that there was no swim season due to the pool repairs.

With reporting by Diana Haecker

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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