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DC Health shuts down one of District’s most popular pools

Inspectors found nine critical violations at the Wilson Aquatic Center in DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood.

WASHINGTON — One of D.C.’s most popular pools has been closed until further notice after health officials discovered multiple problems with how it was being operated. 

The DC Department of Health ordered the immediate closure of the Wilson Aquatic Center, in D.C.’s Tenleytown neighborhood, on Fort Drive NW, on Tuesday. 

The health department posted a notice on the center’s front door explaining the reason for the facility’s closure.

“The facility is ordered closed until further notice by the Department of Health for imminent health hazard(s) in violation of Section 715 of the District’s aquatic facilities regulations (swimming pools, spa pools, and saunas in Subtitle C, Title 25 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations),” the notice reads. 

D.C. resident Karla Hoff was one of several people WUSA9 encountered at the facility Thursday who was surprised to see it closed. 

“It doesn’t seem right that there’s not a general announcement for regular users of the pool, because we come from far to use the pool and it’s a big cost to us if the pool is closed,” she said. “Some of the information should’ve been given of when it will be open and some indication of when we’ll find out.”  

The health department sent WUSA9 its inspection report on the Wilson Aquatic Center Thursday. Inspectors found nine critical violations at the center; two of those violations were corrected on-site during the inspection. 

The report reads inspectors also discovered another four violations they categorized as “non-critical”. 

“Summary suspension is issued for operating an aquatic facility with improper temperatures and not maintaining the facility in good condition by repairing structural or design defects,” the inspector commented. 

These are the findings from the Wilson Aquatic Center’s inspection report: 

  • Records are not adequate and filled out hourly 
  • “Department of Parks and Recreation [DPR] did not report illness of 2/10/23 to the Department of Health”
  • The diving equipment next to the lifeguard chair is loose (corrected on site) 
  • Drinking fountain; the cover vent is not attached properly (corrected on site) 
  • The beachfront entrance rail (leisure) is loose; the middle rail is loose (leisure) (corrected on site) 
  • Beverages were not three feet away from the pool deck (plastic water bottles) 
  • Dehumidifier equipment is training to the pool drainage lines instead of the deck drainage 
  • No security signage to the filter room (corrected on site) 
  • The exhaust ventilation system is not properly functioning 
  • Leakage from pipes inside the filter room 
  • Hand sink temperature 61°F; showerhead temperature 57°F 

DC DOH swimming pool and spa regulations indicate showerhead water temperatures cannot be less than 90° F. The temperatures in all handwashing sinks, in bathrooms, should be at least 100° F. 

In regard to the inspector’s observation that DPR did not report an illness, on Feb. 10, to DC DOH, health regulations say “a pool owner, pool and spa operator, lifeguard, or swimming instructor shall report any death, serious injury, or injury that requires resuscitation or admission to a hospital occurring at a swimming pool, spa pool, sauna to the Department within twenty-four hours of the incident.”

The report did list the water clarity of both the pool and spa as “excellent”. 

Both DC DOH and the DC Department of General Services [DGS] sent WUSA9 a joint statement regarding conditions at the Wilson Aquatic Center.

“The health, safety and well-being of District residents is our foremost priority,” a health department statement reads. “The Wilson Aquatic Center received notice from the Department of Health [DOH] on issues requiring corrective actions. The Department of General Services [DGS] is working on the necessary repairs and the pool will be reopened, as soon as the repairs are completed.”

Prior to that, DGS also sent WUSA9 an independent statement from its offices. It said the issues at the Wilson Aquatic Center were not related to recent maintenance work at Jackson-Reed High School next door.

“The issue at Jackson-Reed High School was resolved; during maintenance work, a valve on the school’s grey water system was inadvertently closed, resulting in no water to the toilets in the main section of the school on Thursday 2/9,” the statement reads. “This was resolved the same day and all toilets were functioning.”

The Wilson Aquatic Center is a relatively new facility. It was opened in 2009 after D.C. demolished an older pool at that site two years prior. At the time, the Washington Post reported it cost the District roughly $35 million to construct.

However, the pool soon ran into problems. Just four years later, officials had to temporarily shut it down to repair its HVAC system.

Ward 3 Councilmember Matt Frumin said he has been following the infrastructure issues at the Wilson Aquatic Center closely. He called the situation “concerning”.

“I met with the Department of General Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation this week and pressed for an expeditious short-term fix and continued planning for a lasting long-term solution,” he said. “The Wilson Aquatic Center is a popular community amenity I use frequently and I’m working to restore access to residents as soon as possible.”

The DOH notice posted to the pool’s door says it closed Tuesday. However, a DPR tweet suggested a state swim meet was scheduled to take place at the pool Wednesday. It is unclear if that meet was rescheduled to another location or for another time.

DPR collected attendance data for all its pools prior to the pandemic. More than 162,000 visited the Wilson Aquatic Center in 2019. It was D.C.’s most popular pool.

“There’s no better pool in the city and I travel from far and many people do,” Hoff said.

A few years ago, the DC Council voted to change the name of Woodrow Wilson High School next door. However, that name change did not apply to the aquatic center, which is managed by DPR.

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