At 401 feet
long and 200 feet wide, Sunlite Pool is considered the largest
re-circulating swimming vessel in the world.
It’s one of the main attractions at Coney Island
Park in Cincinnati.
In fall 2008, operators of the park undertook a truly gargantuan
task — locating a new drain cover to bring the
pre-Depression-era pool into compliance with the Virginia Graeme
Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
“Replacing that grate cost us $35,000,” says Vic
Nolting, president of Coney Island Inc. “It had to be
custom-made, because there aren’t too many people around who
manufacture a 175-foot-by-24-foot drain cover. That complicated
The grate was installed and the job completed in May. And
Nolting reports that all the park’s pools and spas are fully
up to the requirements outlined in VGB, which mandates various
standards to address the risk of suction entrapment.
To bring Sunlite into compliance, Nolting also had to change out
the pool’s water return lines, in addition to hiring an
engineer, getting the plans certified, and having his custom drain
He believes the law didn’t have to be applied as broadly
as it was.
“If you understand the physics of the flow of water around
these drains, you realize they weren’t a danger to
anyone,” he says. “In essence, we were fixing an issue
that didn’t exist.”
Others agree. Across the country, historic and landmark pools,
some even dating beyond Sunlite’s 1925 construction, have
faced similar issues relating to VGB compliance. The requirements
have left some operators questioning both the wisdom and ultimate
effectiveness of the law.
Liberty Bell Pool
Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, Ga., attracts almost a
quarter of a million visitors each year. Among them, 15,000 use the
Bell Pool — a 68-year-old landmark built by the Civilian
Conservation Corps and named by FDR himself on a stopover during
The pool is traditionally used in the spring and summer by local
youth groups, and swim lessons are also taught here. Liberty Bell
is the only public pool within a 30-mile radius spanning four
But in May officials with the Georgia Parks System had a
decision to make — find $15,000 in the budget for
renovations, or close the pool.
Though seemingly unthinkable, the department simply
couldn’t locate the funds necessary for the required fixes,
which included raising the pool’s floor to meet sump
requirements, according to an engineer who examined the vessel. And
despite efforts by the concessionaire to collect donations to save
it, the Liberty Bell Pool was closed for the year.
“I get why the law was made — believe me, being a
father I understand,” says Don McGhee, park superintendent.
“But what’s interesting is that a lot of people learn
to swim at Georgia’s state park pools. And it’s a way
to teach kids to love the water.
“But now you’re not getting that,” he adds,
“and you just wonder if this is a case where they’ve
thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
City Pools, Columbus,
The city of Columbus, Ohio operates nine public pools, all built
around the 1950s, according to the Recreation and
Two years ago department officials decided to stop charging
“Most of our pools are in central urban areas, and even
charging $1 was impacting our participation,” says Terri
Leist, assistant director of the Recreation and Parks
Most of the pools are single main-drain, and all are
gravity-fed, she adds, “so there’s no chance anyone
could get sucked in. Still, we had no choice but to comply with the
Because of when they were built, each of the drain grates had to
be custom-made at a cost of $5,000 to $15,000 per pool. The repairs
ran the department upwards of $45,000.
“This money came out of the city’s fund for capital
expenditures,” says Rick Miller, design manager for the
Recreation and Parks Department. “[Those funds] would have
gone toward other pool or park improvements, like repairing pool
leaks, maintenance of bath houses and fixing lifeguard
McIntire Park Wading
Parks and recreation officials say the 67,000-gallon shallow-water
McIntire pool dates to the 1930s.
But in early spring the Charlottesville,
Va., City Council voted to close the vessel due to
VGB-compliance costs of around $17,000. In addition, city officials
feared the required drainage fixes would create both safety and
sanitation hazards during construction.
The decision resulted in disappointed residents flooding city hall
with phone calls and e-mails, an outcry so loud that councilmembers
quickly scheduled a work session to revisit the matter.
“People came out to protest,” says Ric Barrick,
spokesman for the city of Charlottesville. “They said this
was a part of our culture.”
During that public hearing, citizens spoke of both the charm and
usefulness of the old facility. And members of the council were
clearly convinced, calling the pool an asset to the community that
should be preserved despite economic concerns.
In a subsequent re-vote, the council unanimously decided to save
the pool and undertake the necessary improvements.
“There were initial offers of donations,” Barrick says,
“but ultimately that money came out of the city
The Riviera Club
The swimming pool at The Riviera Club broke ground within days of the stock
market crash of 1929. It hosted Olympic swimmers in the 1960s, and
through the 1970s it was considered the premier swim club in
Opened in 1933, the large outdoor pool contains five drains and
a suction gutter — each of which had to be fitted for new
The price tag totaled at least $10,000, according to pool
manager Ed Ahlbrand.
“It’s a crazy law, but there’s really nothing
I can do about it,” he says. “All of our drains are
gravity-fed, and we’ve never had any problems with people
getting sucked in. “This is just another example of
government gone crazy.”
What’s more, he says the local health department
isn’t enforcing the law because it hasn’t been adopted
at the state level. Other states like Oklahoma and California have
taken similar stances, calling VGB an unfunded federal mandate that
they simply don’t have the resources to implement.