Dec. 23, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– You’ve probably seen some of the movies where sailors are in a submarine, deep beneath the ocean’s surface and running deeper than the vessel ought to run. There is steam, pipes springing leaks, weird pinging and clanking noises.
That was underneath the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center – until a few weeks ago.
The facility originally built to host the swimming and diving competitions for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games has worn itself out. Actually, it has worn well, but with several big events coming up – including the 2015 ACC Championships and the 2016 NCAAs – school officials decided to overhaul the pool’s innards to avoid disaster.
That’s no small task. Typically it takes three to six months to re-plumb a pool this size, but at Tech it’s being done in about three weeks – or the time of holiday break.
The company working on it, Aqua Designs, is a bit ahead of schedule thanks to a 24-hour work days that will carry through Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day – all so that the place is ready to host a home swim meet Jan. 4 against Louisville.
Aquatic Center director Dave Williams has seen a lot in nearly three decades in his profession, but he’s never seen anything quite like what’s going on beneath his pool.
“We have certainly had times where we’ve had to shut down because a part broke, and we brought in a consultant and said we want to make sure we never go off-line again,” Williams said. “We’ve designed a system unique to Georgia Tech. “This is the first time a facility anywhere in the world is building in so much redundancy.
“We could have put one filter on each pool, but we’re putting three filters so if one goes bad we’ll valve it off. That’s because we run about 32 events a year. That doesn’t give us a lot of down time. When a pump goes bad, you’re down for weeks if not months.”
What’s happening now is phase one. That is the work in the sub under the pool.
“It is completely gutting our mechanical room. It’s kind of like being in a submarine with the pipes and fittings and valves,” Williams said. “We have to close everything off, the water sits stagnant, every pipe, filter and motor is pulled out and rebuilt. We have two crews working 12-hour shifts. There are two crew chiefs.
“I’ve been in there at 1 in the morning to check, and they are down there like elves. And there’s 30 people. The filter room runs the length of the pool. We had an event that ended Dec. 8 at 8 p.m., and by 9 they were starting to break down the equipment. By 3 a.m., they had dump trucked it out.”
We’re not talking about simple upgrades, and because of the advanced timeline of this project, “It does drive up the cost,” Williams said, “but we have clients that do not like to be without water for long.”
Before long, the water will be prettier, too.
“This all will get replaced with all the latest [technology]. We’re changing chemicals, using ultraviolet light to keep chlorine down,” Williams said. “Most filter media out to where it will basically take it to where any suspended particles in water would be the size of a grain of sand.
“With so many events televised in 2016, we wanted to go finer than that. On HDTV it’s crystal clear 5 microns vs. 25 microns. Our water is going to be absolutely crystal clear … cameras are more sophisticated.”
The second phase of this project will be after spring semester, when the pools (competition, diving and diving spa) are drained and re-finished. That will take about a month. The third and final phase will call for upgrades to the recreational pool.
Williams has spoken with professional peers in the Competitive Aquatitic Facility Association, and, “after they wipe the puzzled look off their faces,” they marvel over what is being done at Georgia Tech,” Williams said. “I’ve been in the business for almost 30 years, and I have yet to come across a project lead like we have.”
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