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posted: 9/21/2011 5:00 AM

District 128 closing pools as it runs late on safety upgrades

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  • District 128 officials say they'll have to shut down the pools at Vernon Hills High School, pictured, and Libertyville High School because repairs have not been made to meet federal and state safety standards.

      District 128 officials say they'll have to shut down the pools at Vernon Hills High School, pictured, and Libertyville High School because repairs have not been made to meet federal and state safety standards.
    GILBERT R. BOUCHER II/2009

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Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 officials say they'll close the swimming pools at the two campuses because federally mandated repairs won't be made by an Oct. 1 deadline.

Girls swim teams will have to practice and compete elsewhere, officials said. Students set to use the pools during physical education classes will not be able to swim, according to a district memo.

The boys swim teams aren't immediately affected because they compete in the winter season, which begins in November, officials said.

A public meeting to discuss the closures is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Vernon Hills High's studio theater. Athletic directors, administrators and other staffers will talk about the situation and answer questions.

District 128 officials were required to replace unsafe pool drains with devices that meet safety standards under a 2007 law and regulations added to Illinois' books in 2010.

But top administrators were not aware of the mandates until this summer, Superintendent Prentiss Lea said Tuesday.

Communications from the Illinois Department of Public Health to the district about the needed changes went to the district's buildings and grounds department, and they were not passed up the chain of command, Lea said.

"A ball was dropped by one of our folks," he said.

Administrators became aware of the deadline after a personnel change in the buildings and grounds department, Lea said.

"We're all extremely disappointed that we find ourselves in this situation," he said. "That's not the (District) 128 way."

District leaders said they have worked with engineers and a builder and submitted several plans to state health officials.

Those proposals were rejected, however, and no suggestions were made on how to properly adjust the plans, Lea wrote in a letter sent Monday to members of the schools' swim teams, aquatic groups and representatives of the Special Olympics.

"We realize the magnitude of problems this creates for the teams who are currently in season," Lea wrote.

Health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said her team received the district's first proposal Aug. 4. It was rejected, in part, because the application was not signed or sealed by a professional engineer, she said.

The proposed changes didn't meet the code requirements, either, she said.

The department rejected a second repair proposal last week, Arnold said, because it didn't meet the requirements of the law.

A public health department website indicates the waiting period for plan review is eight weeks. If revisions are needed, a second eight-week review period will begin.

The site blames a large number of swimming facility plans that need review and limited staffing for the backlog.

The District 128 pools will close Oct. 1 and remain closed until state officials approve a drain-replacement plan and the work is carried out, Lea said.

District officials won't replace the drains without prior state approval, Lea said, because they could be fined if they take unsanctioned action. And they won't allow swimmers in the pools without fixing the drains because of the legal liability and safety risk, he said.

District officials are trying to work with state lawmakers to remedy the situation, Lea said. They've requested an extension, but their pleas have been unsuccessful so far, he said.

"We want to get the kids back in the pools," Lea said.

Information about the federal pool safety law can be found online at poolsafely.gov/pool-spa-safety-act.

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