Friday, November 9, 2018

Centralia School Super Promises to Restore Therapeutic Pool

Above: Former Centralia school board director Neal Kirby, standing, organized a meeting Monday night to hear an update from Centralia School Superintendent Mark Davalos on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia.

Seniors Want Results for Taxes Paid, Hold Superintendent Accountable for Promises

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Over 30 people, most of them seniors, showed up for a meeting Monday night to hear an update on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia.

The whirlpool has not been fully functional for over two years and was finally shut down in June by the county health department.

Before they finally shut it down, the department gave the school district two years to fix it, citing at least 15 different code violations.

Former Centralia school board director Neal Kirby organized the meeting at Thorbeckes because he was frustrated with the school board’s inaction on the issue. 

Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos attended the meeting and brought Eric Wilson, the school district’s facility maintenance director, to provide information on next steps. 

With patience wearing thin, the seniors peppered the two officials with pointed questions and comments.

“This is my fourth year as superintendent and I inherited the issue as I came in….It’s about managing the money and taking care of all our obligations….Sometimes the wheels move slowly,” Davalos explained at the start of the evening.

Above: Brown water sits in the therapeutic whirlpool at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center. The pool has not been fully functional for two years and was shut down in June by the Lewis County Health Department for code violations.

The Centralia Community Pool at Thorbeckes is owned by the Centralia School District, built on City of Centralia property, and operated by Thorbeckes Athletic Club.

The funding mechanism for the pool facility is dependent upon a collaborative agreement among the entities. There are five years left on the ten year agreement and some are worried time might run out and no one will fix the whirlpool.

Kirby, 66, said he has arthritis in his back and keeps fit by hiking and swimming. He enjoyed using the whirlpool after he got out of the pool.

“It’s called a therapeutic whirlpool for a reason. It offers the heat and massage people need, especially for those who have had joint replacements and issues far worse than me,” he said.

“If we don’t fix this, I’m worried that something else won’t get fixed further on down the line. It’s really incumbent upon us to push to make sure this facility is maintained. I hope we can get it working as it was,” said Kirby.

According to the agreement, Thorbeckes pays for minor, internal repairs and maintenance and the school district and city share the cost of major repairs in equal amounts.

The community has repeatedly voted for school levies with pledges to the pool facility.

Above: Seniors enjoy their water aerobics class at Thorbeckes Aquatic Center in Centralia on Monday evening. Later, several participants attended a meeting to hear an update on why a therapeutic whirlpool is still not functioning at the Center.

With 21 classes per week, the facility sees hundreds of water aerobics participants every month with 1,870 in February, said Thorbeckes pool operator Jason Knispel, who attended the meeting.

Davalos said the pool facility costs about $300,000 annually to operate and the school district is committed to its obligations.  

Normally, about $50,000 to $60,000 per month is set aside to cover this cost, but an unexpected $200,000 pool repair last year diverted money from repairing the whirlpool in a timely manner.

“We paid it and ended up spending more than our annual set aside money….We’ve exceeded it a few times in the last few years, and we’ve been under that amount for a few years. We hope repairs will normalize but we’ve been hit with a couple of big costs,” Davalos said about the aging facility. The facility was built in 1978.

Utilities cost the school district and the city each about $40,000 per month.

Next Steps

According to Davalos, the district met with Thorbeckes and the city about a month ago to discuss the replacement of the whirlpool. All parties agreed that was the best course of action.

The district recently hired a firm to perform an analysis on what repairs are needed to bring it up to code. Those repairs would cost $40,000 in parts alone, said Wilson.

It was the firm’s recommendation to replace the entire unit.

Davalos and Wilson said that with the school board’s approval, the district will look into hiring ORB Architects of Tacoma to design and engineer plans for a new whirlpool.

Several individuals with long memories immediately brought up questionable electrical and plumbing issues that have dogged the facility. They balked at using the same firm that was used when the facility was built.

“I’ve been in business 42 years and I’m just seeing a tremendous number of red flags with ORB,” said local businessman and former Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Duffy. “Personally, I think you’d be wiser to go with someone else or get other bids. I would not seek them out.”

Wilson readily admitted the whirlpool wasn’t built as designed and said other companies could be sought out.

“We’ll take that into consideration,” he said, saying it would take more time, perhaps a couple of months, to research alternative options.

By the end of the meeting, Davalos said that the school district will develop a request for proposals by the end of year, get started at the beginning of the year, and have it operational by mid-spring 2019.

“We’re here because the wheels are in motion…we don’t start something like this unless our intentions are to complete it. We are going to do our due diligence and do the right thing….We’re going to make it happen,” assured Davalos.

Several seniors said they would use the whirlpool for therapeutic reasons if it were repaired.

Seth Knox, Jr., 72, has been a resident of Centralia since 1985. He has had two hip replacements and has a metal plate in his back. He enjoys his water aerobics classes at the Center.

Knox, an Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne, served two tours in Vietnam, two tours in Korea, one in Germany and one in Alaska. 

I would use the whirlpool if it were fixed,” he said.

Joy Dykes, 82, of Centralia, also said she used the whirlpool when it was operational.

“I miss it. I don’t take pills. I don’t like medicine. This is the answer,” she laughed, pointing at the pool. “I do water aerobics three times a week, yoga twice a week, and walk three miles a day in the summer. I do have arthritis really bad in my hands but there are some people who really, really need it,” she said.

Asked after the meeting to clarify water usage details, Wilson said the water usage numbers have always been high due to the nature of the facility. The total water usage for the entire facility reached 47,000 gallons per week.

This includes the pool, whirlpool, a leak in the whirlpool, sinks, showers, toilets, and evaporation factors.

“Over time, the water usage number has increased but significant increase could be attributed to a leak or other issues. Since the spa (whirlpool) has been shut down, the weekly total water usage has significantly decreased and the water bill has been thousands less per month,” said Wilson.

Community journalism in the public interest is needed now more than ever. It also takes time. Little Hollywood, based in Olympia, was asked to attend the Monday night meeting to shine the light on a two year old issue that has not seen local newspaper coverage or action. 

Little Hollywood welcomes news tips and donations in support of issues and concerns involving seniors, veterans, the houseless, and others not often heard in corporate media. Go to to donate via PayPal or other methods.

Above, far left: Seth Knox, Jr., 72, an Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne who served two tours in Vietnam and two tours in Korea, listens to Centralia School Superintendent Mark Davalos on Monday night.