CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
HED:Work begins to raise bubble over City Pool
By Philip Moulden
City workers and Tupelo Aquatic Club volunteers Friday began preparing City Park Pool for installation of a cover that will permit year-round swimming.
A 22,000-square-foot bubble, termed an "air-supported fabric structure" by its makers, should be hovering over the pool by midday Sunday.
"If we start in the morning (Saturday), it should be a day, a day and a half," said Tim Welker, representative for the TenSar Corp. of Buffalo, N.Y., which is supplying the bubble. "People don't realize how little it takes to inflate."
The 35-foot high structure is supported, and heated, by air pumped into the pool area by two small electric motors. The structure has an automatic gas generator to take over the chore in case of power failures.
The bubble installation was conceived and largely funded by the Tupelo Aquatic Club, whose swimmers often faced a disadvantage in early season swimming competitions because of inadequate training.
When it's completed, the project will have cost about $200,000, said the TAC's Bill Alton, credited with being the sparkplug that assured the project was done.
"They couldn't really compete in the winter with the facilities we had in Tupelo," Alton said. "Swimming's really a sport that takes practice, practice, practice.
"We really wanted this thing opened a little quicker," he said, noting subfreezing temperatures as groundwork was under way Friday.
Funding was arranged largely through private contributions and loans. The Tupelo school system also contributed to assure use for winter swim classes and other programs. The city will maintain the cover and offer winter swimming programs.
TAC officials said they still need about $25,000 to pay off their loans.
"We were able to get a lot of commitment and a lot of support from a lot of people," Alton said. "It really has been a community effort."
In turn for its effort, the aquatic club will be guaranteed exclusive use of parts of the pool during portions of each day.
TenSar has supplied numerous similar bubbles to cover athletic fields, pools and other areas around the world.
"I just got back from Norway," Welker noted. "It used to be the northern part of the country that got them, but now more of them are going up in the South."
Stan Bryan, city Parks and Recreation Department director of maintenance operations, said the work was delayed somewhat because city officials hadn't realized the water had to be drained from the pool before the cover could be raised.
The vinyl bubble came in four parts, each weighing about 3,500 pounds. It will be secured to a steel footing, with cable strapping allowing it to withstand winds up to 90 mph, Bryan said.
"It's quite a complicated operation and takes a lot of people," he said.
Originally scheduled to come down when warm weather returns, the department may consider keeping the bubble up year-round, Bryan said. That would save manpower and allow operations during rainy weather.
"We're seeking input from people. We know many people swim because they want to be in the sun, but we'd hope they might use the city's other pools."
However, at this point that's speculation, Bryan said. Officials aren't certain that the pool area wouldn't become too hot under a bubble during the summer.