Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

El Pomar pool gets change of water

Workers at the Ritchie Center are great at changing light bulbs and seating, and even changing the hockey rink into a venue for concerts.

But when it comes to changing the water in the Olympic-size pool at the El Pomar Natatorium, the job can get, well, a little squishy.

Especially since crews had never done it, and if they did it wrong, the pool might pop out of the ground. Literally.

It took more than two weeks and cost about $30,000, but the mission was fulfilled. The pool has been drained, cleaned, repaired and upgraded. Since Sept. 4 swimmers — some 250 a day — have been splashing about in bright, clean, fresh water for the first time since the pool opened in September 1999.

Certainly, over the last seven years the water has been thoroughly treated with chlorine, injected with carbon dioxide and filtered four times a day — that’s state law. And much of the original water has evaporated and been diluted by new.

“We reached the point where we wanted to do a real thorough cleaning and maintenance,” says Stuart Halsall, assistant vice chancellor for recreation, athletic events and Ritchie Center operations.

Out with the old water and in with the new.

Slowly, of course. You don’t just dump 700,000 gallons down the drain in one big gulp.

Denver Water would be overwhelmed and “I’d be blowing up everybody’s toilet in town,” says Randy Schott, DU’s maintenance foreman and the person responsible for getting the pool into shape.

It took four days to drain the pool and another seven days to install new light fixtures and replace broken tiles, Schott says. Then another six days to refill it, shock and balance the acidity, and coax the temperature up to the cozy 82 degrees it’s supposed to be.

“Everything went out without a hitch,” says Zeke Zarco, Denver Water’s chief inspector for wastewater management.

The pool water gently streamed into the 150 million gallons per day processed by the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District before the liquid is dumped into the South Platte River.

That reclaimed water includes ground water flowing under the Ritchie Center, which unless it had been pumped and dumped could have pushed the pool out of the ground. It’s like water pushing against the bottom of a boat, explains Dan Armentrout, assistant chair of the engineering department.

“If you drain the pool, then you have a large volume that could be pushed out if the ground water’s high enough,” he says, noting that swimming pools rely on the weight of the water to stay in place. In the case of the El Pomar pool, that’s about 5.84 million pounds.

“They may be OK by not pumping (the ground water), but it’s good to be safe,” Armentrout says.

Schott made sure it was completely safe, taking two days to remove ground water from the soil the Ritchie Center sits on.

“It’s a river running under there,” he says.

Then came the maintenance and the cleaning, followed by refilling from a fire hydrant. By Sept. 1 the El Pomar pool was ready for the first dip.

Schott had had that privilege back in 1999, he says, when he jumped in while the pool was filling. “I wanted to be the first one to swim in it,” he says. “Like a dad with a new toy, I wanted to be the first to play with it before the kids played with it.

“Oh, was that water cold.”

Seven years later, the honors belonged to Gabriella Duran, Ritchie Center office coordinator, and Aquatics Director Mark Bailey. Duran knifed into the pool with a crisp racing dive barely moments before Bailey executed a classic can opener from the 3-meter springboard.

They each proclaimed the water warm, wonderful and a lot cleaner.

“It feels really good,” Duran chimed.

El Pomar Natatorium by the numbers


Olympic-size, 50 meters by 25 yards, with two 3-meter springboards and two 1-meter springboards. Depth ranges from 4 feet to 14 feet.


About 700,000 gallons. Equivalent to 294,421 cases of your favorite merlot.

Water weight

About 5.84 million pounds. That’s more than 40 Boeing 737-600s at maximum takeoff weight. All the structural steel used in the T-REX project amounted to 6.9 million pounds.

Comments are closed.