Issues ‘catch up’ to 46-year-old facility; repairs would cost $600,000

PHOTO PROVIDED This June 12 photo shows swimmers at the Robert Kepler Memorial Pool near Bellefonte.

BELLEFONTE — Unless it receives full support from local municipalities and enough funding for repairs, the Robert Kepler Memorial Pool has seen its last summer.

On Wednesday, Sept. 27, a special meeting of the Nittany Valley Joint Recreation Authority (NVJRA) was held to talk with council members and supervisors from Bellefonte Borough and Benner, Spring and Walker townships about the future of Kepler Pool at Bellefonte’s Governors Park. The NVJRA is looking for decisions of support from the four municipalities by November, and if all four pledge to financially support the pool, plans will move forward to update a former feasibility study and seek grant funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

According to Michael Bonchack, a NVJRA board member from Spring Township, 2017 has been the most challenging year for the 46-year-old pool, which experienced many issues, especially during the summer.

Among these issues were water leakage that has become significantly worse, issues with the large external filter, degeneration of steel pipes that could result in catastrophic failure, and needs arose for replacement of the pool liner, motor and repellers. Bonchack said that on the weekend of July 4, the pool experienced a major chlorine failure that required help from a hazmat team. There were no injuries or environmental issues, and insurance coverage of the incident is uncertain.

“We’ve been putting band-aids on these things for many, many years, and it’s just finally starting to catch up to us,” Bonchack said.

To get all of the repairs the pool needs and construct a zero-entry wading pool with an attached splash zone for small children, the project will cost an estimated total of $950,000, according to Howard Long of the YMCA of Centre County. Repairs alone will cost $600,000, which will need funding, and the wading pool will cost $350,000, which will come out of NVJRA funds.

Replacements needed to the pool include a liner, filtration system, stainless steel gutter, piping and a concrete walkway around the pool.

Back in 2009, the NVJRA conducted a feasibility study to address problems with the pool. Long said that study will be updated with a new one, which will cost an estimated $7,500 that will come out of NVJRA’s budget.

The NVJRA is looking at applying for funding through DCNR’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) next year if the pool receives enough support.

Wes Fahringer, regional DCNR advisor, said that the average LWCF funding per project averages up to $300,000, sometimes more. Kepler Pool has received LWCF funding in the past.

If the pool is awarded the DCNR funding, Fahringer said the grant contract would last three years, starting on Jan. 1, 2019. Grant applications are due April 2018 and grant recipients would receive notification in the late fall of 2018.

To attain additional funding, the NVJRA has asked the municipalities for a fair share request of $500,000 spread over a period of three years, with Bellefonte potentially contributing $140,000, Benner $90,000, Spring $170,000, and Walker $100,000. Long said the percentage of fair share per municipality was determined by population size.

In addition, there will be community fundraising efforts to raise between $50,0000 to $100,000. Long explained that foundations, local businesses, and local organizations and clubs will be contacted.

One avid supporter of saving the pool is longtime Bellefonte resident Richard Fornicola.

“The Bellefonte Area School District deserves to have a safe, clean, supervised place for children to go, to learn to swim and to enjoy their summer,” Fornicola said.

Fornicola suggested that the project should be broken up, with its most critical components taken care of first and spreading other components out over time.

Local engineer Roger Bagwell supports the efforts to save the pool and is in favor of the new, more modest budget to repair the pool. A father of two, Bagwell said his children are part of the swim team and rely heavily on the pool.

“I’m very passionate about it, and I will go ahead and say right here that I’ll be on your community fundraising, I’ll go ahead and pledge $1,000,” Bagwell said.

Ed Gannon of the Spring Township Planning Commission discussed his concerns about the role of community pools during a time when many residents have their own personal pools.

“People don’t go to pools anymore,” Gannon said. “My kids went to that pool once in the nine years we lived in Spring Township. They’re closing pools in the Philadelphia area because they’re not sustainable.”

Gannon said he applauds the efforts to save the pool, but thinks it is too late.

Bellefonte Borough Council President Gay Dunne begged to differ.

“We have multi-unit residential facilities, everybody does not have a swimming pool,” she said. “Every family is not that typical family. We also have quite a bit of workforce housing here and I cannot believe that all of those people can go to State College anytime they want.”

If the support and funding is there, Kepler pool may have another 10 or more years, Long said. If not, it may have seen its last summer, or have one more year at most.