WEST FARGO —The West Fargo School District’s state-of-the-art swimming facility has been open for only two years, but it’s already in need of repair.
Sensitive electronic equipment damaged by the humid pool environment in Hulbert Aquatic Center has to be replaced, and a dedicated ventilation system must be installed where it's stored. The West Fargo School Board authorized the moves at its Jan. 13 meeting.
In December, at a special board meeting, board members approved a fix for a separate problem with the building’s air exchange unit, which caused pool patrons to feel ill during an event.
The total cost of both repairs is approximately $200,000.
School Board President Patti Stedman said she was surprised that a building that new would have such issues. She wondered how the project could have been designed to allow electronics to be exposed to such conditions.
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"Even I know if I leave my computer in the pool area, there will be problems," she said.
Heather Leas, a spokeswoman for the school district, said it would have been impractical to build a separate structure to house that equipment, since the entire center is considered pool space.
The decision was made to put the equipment in a separate room behind closed doors to limit exposure to chemicals and moist air. "Unfortunately, that separation didn’t end up being enough," she said.
The $20 million facility at 620 7th Ave. E. was built by the district as part of a $98.1 million bond referendum passed by voters in 2015. The facility opened in November 2017, adjacent to L.E. Berger Elementary School.
A Jan. 13 memo to the board spells out the problems relating to corrosion on some of the electronic equipment. They include momentary power outages and failures with the scoreboard and sound system that occurred before and during a “significant meet” in October 2019.
The district recommended budgeting $100,000 to install a separate ventilation system for the meet management room and nearby data room, along with an uninterruptible power supply, and to replace the severely corroded equipment.
A Dec. 18 memo spelled out problems with air exchange unit dampers. A snow and ice storm in March 2019 froze the dampers before and during a “significant” swim meet, according to the memo.
From March 15-17, local swim clubs hosted more than 600 athletes for a state tournament at the aquatic center. The air exchange system wasn't able to operate properly, causing “poor air quality” and making swimmers and spectators feel sick.
The district determined that an engineer should be available to monitor future large-scale events at the facility.
The louvers worked mostly without issue until last month, when temperatures during the second week of December plummeted to the teens below zero at night. They had to be manually thawed multiple times using propane heaters, leading to an accident on Dec. 13 when a line on a propane tank broke, causing a small fire, the memo said.
The board approved approximately $95,000 to fix that issue by extending ductwork around the building’s air exchange unit and installing preheated coils to warm incoming air.
Stedman said the money to pay for both repairs will come from a fund set up specifically for such emergencies.
Leas said the district is meeting with design firms to finalize the work. The goal is to schedule the repairs around events to limit the impact, she said.