IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa planned to drain its Olympic-sized swimming pool this month for regular maintenance, but a broken glass bottle forced it to do so sooner than scheduled.
The shattered bottle also forced Iowa Swimming Inc. to move — at the last minute — its July 25-28 long-course championship meet from the UI Campus Recreation and Wellness Center to Iowa City’s 30-year-old Mercer Park Aquatic Center.
“A pool user brought a glass water bottle into the pool area (which is prohibited) and dropped it near the pool edge,” UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett told The Gazette by email. “It shattered into the water.”
Despite Iowa Swimming’s plans to pay the university more than $21,000 to host 800 swimmers and about 1,500 spectators — for 6,000-some “splashes” over the four-day event — Bassett said safety “is top priority.”
“So the pool was closed, drained and cleaned, according to university procedure,” she said.
The closure came immediately after employees learned of the broken glass July 23 — two days before the state meet was to start.
Bassett said draining the 50-meter pool — which can hold 660,250 gallons of water — takes about a week.
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News of the problem spread via social media, with clubs like the Des Moines Swimming Federation and Iowa City Eels warning of a “venue change.”
“When life gives you lemons, move the lemons to Mercer Park Aquatic Center and drop some serious bombs,” the Des Moines club posted on Twitter, where it also shared this thought: “We’re either going to swim fast or not. The pool is not relevant as far as I’m concerned.”
A UI use agreement with Iowa Swimming required a $21,066 rental fee, which campus officials said included more than $10,200 for personnel costs involved with running the event.
Where the expansive UI natatorium has 1,200 spectator seats, the Mercer Aquatic Center can hold about 150 people on the pool deck, according to Julie Seydell Johnson, director of Iowa City Parks and Recreation.
The 350-spot Mercer parking lot was packed, along with the available nearby street parking for the full four-day event, Seydell Johnson said.
“The grounds around Mercer looked just as busy as when we hosted RAGBRAI last year — filled with tents, coolers and families relaxing the shade between swim heats,” she said.
It cost Iowa City $12,000 to take on the event — an expense it has invoiced back to Iowa Swimming.
But Johnson said the city was glad to do it.
“We were very happy to be able to help the swimmers and keep this event in Iowa City,” she said. “Big thanks to our Mercer neighborhood, regular swimmers and building users for being accommodating to the crowds throughout the weekend.”
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The UI pool remains closed, as the campus had planned to drain it for maintenance between July 29 and Aug. 25. The first day of classes is Aug. 26.
The cleaning and maintenance, which happens every three to four years, will include some tile, gutter, pump and piping repairs.
“It takes about a week to drain the pool, a couple weeks to do all the cleaning and repairs, and then another week to refill, chemically treat and heat the pool,” according to UI officials.
Although the alternate accommodations were less than ideal, swimming clubs throughout the event encouraged their athletes via social media — including the Iowa City Eels, which tweeted, “Super proud of our Eels athletes today! They handled some adversity and adapted to unexpected conditions.”
The Eels also tweeted this piece of advice: “BTW: There is no recycling for glass containers at swimming pools because YOU SHOULD NEVER BRING GLASS CONTAINERS TO A POOL!”
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