Pool of Champions

Behind the scenes at the IU Natatorium

Keith Dollard at the competition poolView print quality image
IU Natatorium operations manager Keith Dollard prepares to test the competition pool's chemical levels. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

Two million gallons of water. Five bodies of water. More than 200 former and current Olympians.

Intimidating numbers -- unless you are the operations manager at the IU Natatorium. For 20 years, Keith Dollard has expertly maintained the swimming pools, hot tub, cold plunge tub (kept at 55 degrees) and diving well within the hallowed athletic complex at IUPUI.

"You see a lot of former Olympians, and possibly future Olympians, competing in these meets," Dollard said. "I have to make sure all of the water systems are running properly."

From community swimming lessons to international diving events, Dollard and the Natatorium team work hard to provide the venue with the best, safest conditions for the athletes. But most people in the stands -- and even most of the competitors -- don't know the advanced machinations that reside below the pools.

Description of the following video:

[Video: People in swimsuits jump and dive off various diving boards and into the pool.]

[Title appears in upper-left corner: IUPUI presents]

[Video: Underwater shots of the IU Natatorium's diving well and competition pool, some as people are landing in the water]

[Keith Dollard speaks in voiceover: In this building alone, we have over 2 million gallons of water.]

[Dollard appears on camera; title appears: Keith Dollard, IU Natatorium operations manager]

[Dollard speaks: Maintaining the pool, we have a pretty elaborate filter system in the back that we just upgraded the past three years ... ]

[Video: Shots of the pools' filter systems and control panels]

[Dollard speaks in voiceover as the camera pans various aspects of the systems: ... a pretty well-known Neptune-Benson system, and we have a BECS Control chemical system. I've gotta be here to check it, maintain it, monitor it, testing the water, testing the water, taking it into the health board -- Board of Health -- and just maintaining proper levels ... ]

[Video: Dollard checking chlorine and pH levels topside at the competition pool.]

[Dollard speaks in voiceover: ... for bather comfort and bather safety.]

[Video: Closeup of a gauge on a pool filtration system; loud mechanical humming is heard]

[Dollard appears on camera: And the only real difference in between, say, a high school meet, a college meet, or a USA Swimming meet is the high-profile athletes.]

[Video: A diver springboards into the pool.]

[Dollard speaks in voiceover: We always try to put on a big show, for the little kids clear up to the Olympians.]

[Screen goes to black. Title appears: IU trident, IUPUI, Fulfilling the promise, iupui.edu]

[End of transcript]

Dollard is in charge of multiple swimming pools and 2 million gallons of water. Video by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

Three filtration systems, each about the size of a studio apartment, churn the water through more than a football field's length of pipes. Lint, hair and skin collect into long vertical filters within the systems' tanks. Among the many readings on LED screens are the status of the filters, which must be monitored and "bumped" several times a day: A large metal plate bumps into the filters automatically, knocking loose the debris to be collected at the bottom of the tanks and disposed of.

The mechanical room -- also known as the "belly of the beast" -- monitors chlorine levels, water flow rates and pool temperatures.

"We have to follow state codes for pH levels and chlorine residual," Dollard explained. "Right now, our competition pool is floating around a 7.3 pH. Usually, you want to keep your pool between a 7.2 and a 7.6 per code and swimmer comfort."

The pool temperatures are kept regulated for swimmers: The competition pool is at 79 degrees, and the diving well is at 84 degrees. The smaller practice pool, which also hosts swimming lessons for the public, is kept at a balmy 84 degrees as well.

Dollard and the Natatorium staff must keep close watch on the water topside, too. Much like the staff at your public pool, Dollard retrieves water samples regularly to monitor chemical balances utilizing a liquid agent test kit. The chemicals give different readings from the water samples scooped up from the pools.

Keith Dollard stands next to a pool filtration system.View print quality image
Dollard stands with a pool filtration system, also known as "the belly of the beast." Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

In each small sample, Dollard and the Natatorium lifeguards look for a few different readings. For pH levels, five drops of a phenol red reagent are added to the water. After a shake of the sample, the water turns to a shade of orange. If the sample is red, the pH is too high. For a chlorine test, two reagents -- a clear R1 and a light-sensitive R2 -- get added to the sample. The desired color on the testing kit is a light purple. A dark purple indicates too much chlorine.

For most events, Dollard collaborates with Campus Facility Services skilled trades and outside contractors. Depending on the size and level of the meet, extra lighting, scoreboards and video screens for spectators will be installed. Dollard is also involved with the various graphics and banners hung for each event.

"From a high school or college meet to a USA Swimming meet, the only difference is the high-profile athletes," Dollard said. "We always try to put on a big show, from the little kids clear up to the Olympians."