The COVID-19 pandemic caused Ypsilanti's Rutherford Pool to close for a season and created construction delays in 2020, but the facility is set to reopen in 2021 with an updated bath house complete with a solar array on the roof.
"It was devastating last year not being able to open, but we're always going to do what's best for the community," says Joel Rutherford, vice chair of the Friends of the Rutherford Pool and son of the pool's namesake, Jesse Rutherford.
The community pool, located in Recreation Park on Ypsilanti's Southside, underwent a $1.05 million remodel between 2012 and 2014. Then a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2019 netted more than $74,000, garnering matching funds of $50,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Friends of the Rutherford Pool Chair Jessica Faul says construction started at the end of 2019 with an expected completion date of March or April of 2020, with plans for the pool to be open to the public last summer. Friends of the Rutherford Pool Chair Jessica Faul in the equipment room at the Rutherford Pool bath house.
"Construction had to come to a complete halt in March, and that caused a significant delay," Faul says.
Even when contractors and subcontractors were allowed back in the building, the work flow had been interrupted, and the pool had to compete with other projects those workers had lined up before the shutdown, she says.
Faul says that while Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order allowed the pool to open in June, the board decided not to do so. Faul says it takes three to four weeks to open the pool each spring, from hiring lifeguards to having the pool inspected, and it didn't seem feasible or responsible to open for the 2020 season.
"It was partly because the bath house was not ready, but we also couldn't come up with a plan where patrons and employees were safe," she says.
Ypsilanti-based Phoenix Contractors recently finished remodeling the building. Staff still have to complete a few details, like installing benches, shelving, and lockers, before the pool opens for the 2021 season. When it opens, patrons will enter a completely remodeled, ADA-compliant bath house with a gender-neutral family bathroom. Nick Hieser of Phoenix Contractors installs a sign on a restroom at the Rutherford Pool bath house.
The solar array on the roof is funded by a $25,000 donation from an anonymous benefactor, along with free labor from Solar Ypsi volunteers and Amy Strutz, owner of AJ Leo Electric & Solar.
Dave Strenski, founder of Solar Ypsi, says he was eager to get started on the solar project, but it had to wait until the bath house roof was replaced. The array should provide about two-thirds of the facility's power usage, most of which goes to driving the pumps for the pool.
The delay wasn't entirely negative, as prices for solar panels continue to fall, Strenski says.
"It's astounding to me. Panels are getting more wattage and prices are staying the same or going down, so the price per watt continues to fall," Strenski says. AJ Leo Electric & Solar owner Amy Strutz and Solar Ypsi founder Dave Strenski at Rutherford Pool.
Faul says the tentative plan is to open Rutherford Pool as usual on Memorial Day weekend, but with capped attendance well below the county's mandated capacity limit. She says the number of lessons offered and the number of participants in those lessons will likely be smaller than in previous years as well.
The board chose to freeze prices for daily and season passes at the same price they were in 2020, and hopes to offer as many scholarships for lessons as in previous years.
Staffing levels, however, will be about the same or higher than in previous years.
"We may have to hire extra staff, because we can't ask guards to enforce masks or social distancing, and we'll need to do extra cleaning in the facility," Faul says.
Before the pool was opened in 1974, Rutherford says Ypsilanti residents had to swim at the old Ypsilanti High School or the pool at Eastern Michigan University. He says it was a point of pride for the community when his father backed the idea of building a pool. The Rutherford Pool.
"My father wanted something that was really going to provide a safe and recreational environment where people could come and feel good about it," Rutherford says.
For those who were disappointed that the pool didn't open in 2020, he counsels patience.
"I want people to understand we'll do the best we can for the summer season, but some things are out of our control," Rutherford says. "I hope people will be understanding. We'll do the best programming we can for everybody, but we have to work with the restrictions we're under, and the idea is to provide a safe environment for everybody who attends."
Faul says the board couldn't operate the pool without the "amazing community that supports us," and that the board is looking forward to the 2021 season.
"Everybody is ready for some sort of recreational opportunity, and being outside is just about the safest choice you can make," she says.
More information about Rutherford Pool is available here.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.