On March 31 — the day before the Billings parks department started registering kids for swimming lessons and summer camps — an arson fire heavily damaged the Rose Park pool building.
The fire burned plumbing, wires and roofing, causing damage estimated at $300,000.
The arson could have put the city’s biggest outdoor pool out of business for the summer of 2016. But the parks department staff didn’t let that happen.
In the 10 weeks between the blaze and the scheduled pool opening day, the department scrambled to fix what needed to be fixed to operate safely this season. With the help of local contractors, the Rose Park pool was ready for swimmers and sliders on Wednesday as scheduled. More than 400 people were poolside by early afternoon as the temperature climbed above 90.
In addition to recreation, the pool also provides dozens of summer jobs, mostly for teens.
The park department’s long-term plan includes renovating the Rose Park pool building next year, so the repairs were designed just to get through this summer.
The fire released asbestos, which required mitigation and subsequent air testing. A damaged portion of the building had to be demolished. A temporary roof was installed over a portion of the building. Temporary water service had to be installed. Blackened cinder block walls were repainted.
“There was a whole lot of people involved in make this happen,” Parks Planner Mark Jarvis said last week. CTA Architects Engineers helped the department obtain needed certifications and provided analysis of building safety. Dick Anderson Construction crews reframed damaged portions of the building. Then roofers, plumbers and electricians made repairs.
Pepsi donated the use of a “snack shack” so that concessions are available. Concession sales are a significant source of revenue for operating the pool.
Jarvis has credited the city’s legal, administrative and purchasing departments for expediting temporary repairs, which were expected to cost $150,000.
Last year, about 43,000 adults and children splashed into Rose Park pool between the first week of June and the third week of August. The pool is again a cool summer destination, thanks to the concerted efforts of staff in several city departments and the good work of local businesses.
Congratulations to everyone who helped get the pool ready in time for a hot opening day. Gazette opinions complain when local government lags in fixing problems. In the pool fire case, we applaud city leaders and the parks department for getting the repairs finished fast.
The Rose Park pool building fire was one of three arson blazes reported early on March 31. The others were in a local business and in a vehicle. The crimes remain under investigation, but no arrests have been made, according to Police Lt. Casey Hafner.