Seven months after they were supposed to be completed, mandated safety-related improvements to the drain system at Libertyville High School's indoor swimming pool finally are under way.
Similar repairs should begin this week at Vernon Hills High School's pool, too.
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When the work is finished in the next week or so, the projects at the sister schools will close a stressful and frustrating chapter for Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, one that began last summer when administrators discovered they had not made the safety repairs to either pool and likely wouldn't by a fall deadline.
"We are excited to be nearing the end of our pool compliance journey," District 128 spokeswoman Mary Todoric said in an email.
A 2007 federal law targeted the drains of countless swimming pools and spas across the country. It was prompted by the deaths of children who were held under water by suction from pool drains.
A 2010 Illinois law established an Oct. 1, 2011 deadline for installing safer drain covers and related equipment.
The rules apply to pools and spas at schools, park districts, hotels, condominium complexes and other public facilities. Private pools are exempt.
Although they knew of the new laws, top District 128 administrators said they were unaware of the deadline until this past summer because of an internal communications breakdown.
They rushed repair plans to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which is overseeing the repairs across the state, but they were not approved by the deadline.
As a result, District 128 officials shut down both pools on Oct. 1. A few weeks later, however, the pools reopened after district officials reached a settlement with the health department that extended the repair deadline until June 1.
The reprieve allowed student athletes, kids in physical education classes and people in community swim programs back into the pools.
Months of planning followed, and in March officials received permission from the state to proceed with repairs.
"Ultimately, we do what we do for the good of our students, and we are fortunate to be working with a staff that will do whatever it takes to get the job done," Todoric said.
The Libertyville High pool was drained this past Saturday to prepare for the work, which involves the installation of a new sump assembly and drain cover. Starting with some pre-construction demolition work, the effort is expected to take five to seven days, Todoric said.
Once the work has been inspected and approved by the public health department, which should happen within three days of completion, the pool can reopen, Todoric said.
Crews were set to begin removing the water from the Vernon Hills High pool Wednesday night. Some preparatory demolition will follow, and then a new circulation pump and drain cover will be installed.
As at Libertyville, the Vernon Hills construction is expected to take up to seven days, and a state inspection is required before the pool can reopen.
Aquatic activities at both schools are affected by the work.
The Libertyville High boys and girls water polo teams practiced at Vernon Hills earlier this week, and the teams from both schools will practice at other Lake County schools in upcoming days.
Additionally, a Special Olympics swim programs have been canceled and the Cats Aquatics community swimming teams are using pools at other locations, Todoric said.
The work at Libertyville High will cost about $30,158. The work at Vernon Hills will cost $41,600. The total is less than the district's preliminary estimate of $125,000.
The pools at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools weren't the only ones in the suburbs to miss the deadline, and many still haven't been brought up to code.
Pools not in compliance with the law can be ordered closed by state health officials at any time, according to the agency's website.
An updated list of noncompliant pools can be found online at idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pdf/Noncompliant_Swimming_Fac_List.pdf.