D.C. Installs City's First Pool Heater at East Potomac Facility

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 24, 2009

The District has installed a heater at the East Potomac Pool, the outdoor aquatics facility Mayor Adrian M. Fenty sometimes uses to train for triathlons.

Out of the city's 19 outdoor pools, it's the only one that has received the upgrade, which cost $75,000. John Stokes, a spokesman for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the installation is "part of an extended outdoor pool-season pilot." He said the city is hoping to "maximize and expand pool services for District swimmers" at its premier pools: East Potomac, Banneker and Anacostia.

But the heater for East Potomac has been shrouded in mystery and innuendo.

Most swim clubs and avid swimmers in the city knew nothing about the new feature, which would make an unseasonable dip at the outdoor pool an alternative to swimming indoors. But as word began circulating about the heater, so did rumors that the pool was upgraded to fit the mayor's training schedule.

Fenty (D) denied any self-serving motive and said in an interview that he was not aware that the heater had been installed. He said he has not swum recently at the pool at Hains Point, the park where he's also known to bicycle as he readies himself for races. He said he swims there only during the traditional outdoor pool season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. Otherwise, he swims at the indoor pool at William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, the city's pool on Capitol Hill.

All outdoor pools were scheduled to open yesterday.

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said he was not aware of the installation until The Washington Post told him, even though he oversees capital projects and maintenance.

A heater, he said, is a luxury at a time when the recreation department, as with other city agencies, is experiencing a budget crunch. "Why, with the budget restraints we have, would we enter into a pilot program like this?" he asked. "It speaks of a country club mentality on taxpayers' dollars."

"There's no other heated pool in D.C.," Thomas said. Chuckling a bit in disbelief, he asked, "Why Hains Point?"

Clark E. Ray, who was fired last month as the parks and recreation director, said his staff came up with the idea of the heater at East Potomac because the pool is mostly used by competitive swimmers. "I never spoke with the mayor about his desire to put a heater at Hains Point," he said.

Ray said he and his staff never discussed a pilot program to put heaters at the other two pools. Banneker and Anacostia are neighborhood pools and probably would not get the kind of traffic that East Potomac would, he said.

Stokes said the heater was installed May 1. An invoice shows that labor totaled $25,610, and materials cost $39,227. There was also a $15,000 cost to Washington Gas to hook up the heater to utilities. The invoice, issued April 23, showed that the heater installation was 25 percent complete at the time. The pool heaters will be installed at Banneker and Anacostia only if "the pilot proves successful," according to an e-mailed statement from Stokes.

Pamela Detrow, 56, who swims at East Potomac, said she found out that the pool was heated from other swimmers at Rumsey. "I am just really upset that it's a ridiculous waste of money," she said. "I don't see the benefit."

There is no shade at the facility, she said, and the direct sunlight efficiently heats the pool by the time it opens to the public each day. Advertised hours show the pool opens at 1 p.m. weekdays and noon weekends.

"I just think with all of the cutbacks and people in need . . . money could have been spent elsewhere," Detrow said.

Stokes blamed the weather for the city's failure to publicize the heater at East Potomac and the experiment with extending the outdoor pool season beyond the summer months. "We haven't advertised it at this point because the weather is warm," he said. "That's why we didn't advertise it."

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