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Collaboration keeps IU pools at championship level for all swimmers

Pool operators and inspectors ensure IU Natatorium is ready to host national swimming champions

Jun 26, 2023

Indiana University has more than 28 pools or spas, including the IU Natatorium at IUPUI, which has been home to some of the nation’s most historic swimming events.

Whether IU is teaching children swimming lessons or hosting Olympic athletes, safety is the top priority.

The pool inspections conducted by members of the IU Environmental Health and Safety team, in close collaboration with pool operators and aquatics directors, ensure the water and facilities are ready for action.

A person holds a vial of water in front of a pool Public health specialist Marta Somers tests a sample of water from the IU Outdoor Pool at IU Bloomington as part of a routine inspection.Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Among those who inspect IU’s pools and spas are public health specialist Marta Somers.

“I think the IU pools are the best-maintained pools in the state,” she said.

When Somers inspects a facility, she brings a flashlight, thermometer, water testing kit and clipboard. Among the notes on her clipboard is a checklist of best practices that are based on Indiana state law requirements.

During a recent inspection of the IU Outdoor Pool on the Bloomington campus, she talked with Kellen Edelbrock, aquatics program director for Recreational Sports, as they walked around the facility. Together, they examined the facility’s first-aid kits, signage, showers, mechanical areas and many other spaces in between.

At each shower and sink, Somers turned on the water to test its temperature and checked to see if soap and towels were available for patrons. She read each word on the signs, making sure necessary safety information was visible for all who visit the pool.

Then she got out her water testing kit. It was full of tiny bottles with red, blue, yellow, white and green lids.

Leaning over the edge of each pool, Somers reached elbow-deep into the water with an empty vial and pulled out a sample.

“I’ve never fallen in or dropped anything I haven’t been able to retrieve,” she said with a grin.

The samples must be taken from a space in the pool that’s away from the filtration system and at least 18 inches down.

Once the vial was filled to Somers’ satisfaction, she held it up to eye level and poured out what she didn’t need. Then she took the water to her testing kit.

She added a few red drops to the vial, shook it and checked the color against the measurements.

“Check, check, check,” she whispered aloud to herself as she made marks on her clipboard.

The analysis she conducts with the testing kit provides her with information about the levels of pH, alkalinity and chlorine in the water. Getting the pool’s chemistry right controls bacteria and viruses that could be in the water and decreases the possibility of skin irritation issues for swimmers.

On a hot day, the IU Outdoor Pool can have about 300 swimmers, and about 1,500 people are enrolled in the swim lessons offered daily there. Because of the popularity of this pool, it is inspected at least once a month.

Man kneels by the pool with a water testing kit. Keith Dollard, operations manager at the IU Natatorium, expects the pool to be championship ready everyday. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University.

The IU Natatorium receives the same rigorous inspection, and for operations manager Keith Dollard, the high marks it receives reflect the excellence of its staff.

Dollard has been an IU employee for nearly 25 years, and he and others who keep the IU Natatorium maintained work closely with Somers and others.

“We work hand in hand with Environmental Health and Safety,” he said. “Their checks let us stay open.”

Much of Dollard’s time is spent making sure all of the machines in the Natatorium’s mechanical room are maintained. They control the chlorine levels, pool temperatures and water flow rates.

“We check those several times a day,” he said. “All of the systems have to work in tandem with the air environment.”

On Tuesday, the IU Natatorium will be the site of the 2023 Phillips 66 National Championships, which will bring about 600 swimmers to compete for coveted spots on Team USA to represent the United States in international swimming events.

Dollard is unfazed by the essential behind-the-scenes role he plays in these historic national championships because his job remains the same.

“We treat every day like we’re hosting a national championship,” he said.


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Mary Keck

Communications Manager, Public Safety

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