University of Iowa to spend up to $6 million to replace 'unreliable' system for championship-level pool

Purdue's Erik Juliusson dives into the water during the championship final of the 200-yard individual medley at the 2019
Purdue’s Erik Juliusson dives into the water during the championship final of the 200-yard individual medley at the 2019 Big Ten Conference Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships at the University of Iowa Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium in Iowa City, Iowa, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

AMES — After air handling units serving its Big Ten and NCAA championship-level pool have proved unreliable and in a state of deterioration — after just nine years in operation — the University of Iowa is planning to spend $5 million to $6 million on replacements.

A Board of Regents committee Wednesday said it will recommend to the full board UI plans to proceed with replacing seven “PoolPak” air handling units — including pumps, piping, and controls — in its Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, which opened in 2010.

“The original design of this project included a proprietary air handling system called PoolPak,” Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz told the regents, explaining other institutions and facilities nationally also chose the system. “Ours and others have found that, over time with the corrosive nature of the aquatic centers, these have not held up well.”

Compounding corrosion and other concerns is the proprietary nature of the system and the difficulty UI staff have had acquiring or modifying its parts.

“There have been several significant issues with parts,” according to board documents. “While some parts have been replaced in recent years, several remain in need of repair or replacement.”

Weighing those concerns and the mounting care and maintenance needs, Lehnertz said, the university decided the best solution was replacement, and sooner rather than later as the spaces being served “generally cannot afford down time because they are very event oriented.”

The UI hosts Big Ten and NCAA swimming and diving championships and events, along with regional and national club events and championships.


“We are taking time before the swimming season starts to advance this maintenance-based replacement,” he said.

The seven new, replacement air handling units will be more traditional products with readily available parts, allowing in-house staff to operate the recreation and wellness center “like other campus buildings,” according to regent documents.

In hopes of keeping the main and leisure pools functional throughout construction, the plan is to replace only one air handling unit at a time.

The estimated $5 million to $6 million project cost would be paid for through “recreation renewal and replacement funds” and UI Athletic Department gifts and income.

PoolPak did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the UI concerns or questions about concerns at other facilities.

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