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Search for a Rare Part Closes Bayview Pool for Months

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Members of the San Francisco Tsunami water polo team are among the many users of Martin Luther King Jr. Pool in the Bayview. (Jeff Braverman)

The website for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department describes the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool in the city's Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood as "a hidden gem."

And that it is -- with lap swimming, water polo, swimming, water aerobics and even underwater hockey. (Don't really get that, but they seem to enjoy it.) It's also the city's only deep-water pool, which is necessary to play water polo.

But since November, that hidden gem has also been closed. The city said it needed a "custom-made part" to fix the pool filter. That raised the question: "Why would a city-owned public pool require such a fancy, hard-to-find part?"

I should say, by way of full disclosure, that I regularly use the pool as a member of the San Francisco Tsunami water polo and swim teams. That's how I know about the closure. Our polo team has had to beg and borrow (we drew the line at stealing) practice time at other pools around the Bay Area since November.

I decided to check into whether this prolonged closure was typical of public pools, unusual, or even some kind of incompetence or inefficiency on the city's part.

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"Four to six months to acquire such a part is not unheard of," said Heather Woodland, president of the Southern California Public Pool Operators Association.

When I told her several swimmers and polo players wisecracked that you could just get the specs and print the filter part on a 3-D printer, she swatted that idea down like an Olympic team goalie.

"A lot of equipment is proprietary for manufacturers, so there's not a lot of options out there on where to get it," Woodland said.

"It's not like shopping for a car, where you have 50 different brands to choose from.  Also, if the part comes in contact with the water, it has to be approved by NSF," Woodland added, referring to an organization that protects public health and safety.

Sarah Ballard, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, identified the part in question as an "impeller," the paddle that the motor runs to keep the filtration system flowing. Cost, including installation: $10,000.

Ballard said it took 10 weeks to get the part, but that it arrived from China last week and was being installed Tuesday. The pool will open no later than March 24, she promises.

The good news, she added, is that while the pool has been closed, the city did its annual routine maintenance, which usually puts the facility out of commission for a month each year.

Now that's what I call city government efficiency!

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