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Pool corrosion prompts investigation in East Lyme

East Lyme — The ceiling of the East Lyme High School Aquatics center is dropping chunks of rust onto swimmers, according to school district facilities director Christian Lund.

Lund has been on the municipal meeting circuit to secure the necessary permissions for a $17,010 evaluation to figure out the extent of the problem. He went before the Board of Education last month and the Board of Selectman last week.

"We are having some issues specifically with corrosion, and chunks of rust are now falling onto people in the pool on occasion so we have to address it before it gets worse," he said.

The money will come from a settlement fund established when problems with the original construction of the pool roof 20 years ago yielded a roughly $80,000 settlement for future roof repairs, according to Lund. He said the fund has grown with interest to about $125,000.

The pool was constructed as part of the 1999 high school expansion.

The request, approved unanimously by the school board and selectmen, must now go to the Board of Finance and then to a town meeting for a vote.

"Even though the money we wish to use was deposited specifically for future roof repair purposes, that's what is required by the Town Charter," he said Monday.

Lund described the amount of rust as "extensive" but "not that bad" yet.

He said it doesn't appear there is any risk of a roof collapse.

"Most of it is corrosion, and once things are rusting, you've got to stop it before it gets bad," he said.

Lund said he does not anticipate that the aquatics facility will need to be closed for the investigation. He estimated that recommended repairs resulting from the investigation would be made next summer at the earliest, unless "something really bad" was found.

The review will be conducted by Techton Architects. 

The "destructive testing" will include cutting out insulation and removing some sections of metal to check the thickness and the extent of the corrosion, Lund said. He told officials the cost includes the immediate replacement of the disturbed areas and that the resulting data will be sent to a laboratory. Structural design calculations will be used to prepare a set of options to guide repairs, he said.

Superintendent of Schools Jeff Newton in the June 7 meeting characterized the problem as part of the "infamous aquatic center ceiling roof situation which we've lived with for 20 years."

He said the exterior shell of the roof is in good shape, but there are issues of peeling paint and rust on the inside.

"We've struggled a bit with the interior," he said.

Newton could not be reached for further comment.

According to school board meeting minutes from 2016, a dehumidification system was proposed as a way to improve air quality, prolong roof life and prevent deterioration of pool infrastructure. Minutes from the East Lyme Aquatic and Fitness Center Committee show it was installed in the summer of 2018.

The dehumidification project cost $367,000, with $100,000 covered by pool revenue and $267,000 through the town's capital improvement plan, Newton said at the time.

At the pool on Monday, resident Paul Marusov said he has not experienced any problems with falling rust in the 11 years he's been using the facility.

Marusov, who completed his longest swim to date that morning, was grateful the facility had recently expanded the length of time for certain lane reservations from 45 minutes to an hour as pandemic restrictions are pulled back.

He took advantage of the extra 15 minutes of time to swim his personal best 1,800 yards.

The 77-year-old with a heart transplant acknowledged he might be a bit "oblivious" to things falling from the ceiling -- "especially after I start breathing hard after 35 minutes to an hour," he said.

He said he's never heard any other swimmers complain about rust on the ceiling.

e.regan@theday.com

Editor's note: The last section of this story was updated to include context initially taken out during the editing process.

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