Slippin’ And Slidin’

In 1999, when Jeff Jacobson was first elected mayor of North Pole, Alaska, he and his staff put together a wish list of projects. High on that list was a water slide for Wescott Pool. Today, that wish is a reality.

“I feel a real sense of accomplishment,” says Jacobson. “Our quality of life has improved, kids are excited to go to the pool, and the slide is something we are all proud of. It took a long time for us to get here, but with a lot of help from a lot of people, we made it.”

Jacobson’s motivation for the project was to find something that would inspire locals to learn how to swim since the city is surrounded by water.

When North Pole was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the water slide, the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) committed funds for additional pool improvements, including new stainless-steel gutters with additional surge capacity, a Portland cement pool liner and lane markers, a roof coating to extend the life of the roof and environmental control upgrades to improve comfort and energy efficiency.

“People were excited when they heard about the slide and all of the other upgrades,” says Michelle Leonard, FNSB Parks and Recreation Aquatics Director. “They were a little apprehensive to be losing the facility for six months during the renovation process, but I think that now that the project is finished, they would agree that it was well worth the wait.”

Well worth the wait, indeed. The number of people using the pool has increased by 40 percent since the project was completed, with no sign of slowing down.

“On a Wednesday night, which was always a slow night — it is the middle of the week, a work night and a school night — we will have 65 people in the pool. When we’re really busy, sometimes we have to turn people away,” says Leonard. “During the week, most of the people are from North Pole, but on Friday nights and the weekends, we get people driving in from Fairbanks, just to use the slide.”

Despite numerous opportunities for outdoor water sports during the summer, Wescott is anticipating a busy summer and will be opening the slides in the afternoons and evenings.

Breaking It Down

Although Wescott pool attendance and operation appear to be smooth swimming from here on out, the project itself was not without challenges. Many of the key project components had long lead times — as most Alaskans will attest, it can be frustrating to order a product from the “Lower 48” and know that meeting your deadline is dependent on its timely arrival. When that product is what will become the northernmost water slide in America, and the installation window consists of four days, waiting for its delivery can begin to fray nerves. Fortunately for the architects and engineers at USKH Inc., the design firm hired for the project, other components of the project kept them occupied.

“This project was a challenge,” says Gary Pohl, AIA and project manager for USKH. “We looked at various configurations for how to integrate a new slide into the existing pool facility, which was constructed in 1975, and there was a myriad of technical and permitting issues to be solved.”

The site of Wescott pool has a high water table, which means that when the pool is drained, the water in the ground will literally float the concrete shell of the pool up and out of the ground. This problem was addressed by continuously running a dewatering well to lower the water table around the pool.

“We pumped thousands of gallons of water a day to keep the shell from floating out,” says Chris Lease, construction administrator for the project. “And that was just one thing to worry about.”

Due to the space constraints of the existing double-door entry to the pool, the only piece of excavating equipment that could be used for demolishing and removing the existing pool deck to install the pump pit and footing for the water slide was a Bobcat; at its maximum reach, the Bobcat could not extend the required depth for the footing for the slides. The solution was a good, old-fashioned shovel.

“There were about four or five laborers from Chugach Industries, our contractor, who were digging the hole, and they had to dig for about eight hours, which is pretty atypical for jobs like this; usually they would use a backhoe, and it would be finished in about 30 minutes. I don’t think that they were thrilled to be digging all day — not that I blame them,” says Lease.

Key Players

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