Swim center reopens after safety concern

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The 34-year-old Smith Swim Center underwent extensive repairs to its roof over winter break after it was deemed unsafe for use by the University. Structural problems in the building’s roof were first detected in November, but the swim center was not closed until Dec. 20, when the flaws were confirmed by engineers and the original architect of the building. The center reopened for use on Jan. 17.

In a Dec. 20 University statement, Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations, said the University decided to close the swim center in order to “ensure the safety of Brown’s athletes and members of the local community who use the facility.”

Because the closure of the center occurred over winter break, the 14 athletic teams who use the facility were not significantly affected.

“I hate to put it this way, but the timing was pretty good,” said Michael Goldberger, director of athletics.

Goldberger said those most affected by the closure were residents of the community who have memberships to certain Brown athletic facilities. Goldberger said there are about 280 community memberships, which include both individual memberships and family memberships.

Kit Elsworth ’09, a member of the men’s swim team, said the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams were in Florida on a planned training trip for much of the period that the swim center was closed.

“We weren’t expecting it to open until mid-February, so we had a plan in place for what we were going to do in the meantime, but fortunately it opened shortly after we got back from Florida (on Jan. 16),” he said.

The men’s and women’s swim teams used facilities at Seekonk High School in Seekonk, Mass., for two days but were able to get back in the pool at the Smith Swim Center by Jan. 18. The diving team trained at Roger Williams College in the interim.

Elsworth said the teams didn’t notice any problems with the center during the fall season and he felt the University kept the teams who use the facility well-informed on the status of repairs.

Paul Dietel, assistant director of design and construction for Facilities Management, said potential problems with the facility’s roof were first noticed in November during a follow-up inspection to locker room renovations. Benn & Associates Inc., the company performing the inspection, noted areas in the roof in need of further review and recommended that Brown contact the original architect of the center before performing any repairs, Dietel said.

The Smith Swim Center, which was built in 1973, has a hyperbolic paraboloid structure, a design patented by the facility’s architect Daniel Tully.

According to Dietel, when Tully reviewed the facility on Dec. 19, he expressed concern over “structural asymmetry” in the center’s roof. These concerns prompted the University to close the Smith Swim Center the following day.

Acting on Tully’s concerns, the University contacted Simpson, Gumpertz and Heger, an engineering firm, to evaluate the roof’s structure. Dietel said the firm, which was more familiar with the specific structure of the Smith Swim Center, concurred with Tully’s opinion and recommended that repairs be made to the facility.

Laminated veneer lumber beams were installed at three locations in the facility to provide support for the roof, but the repairs are only temporary. According to Dietel, the University plans to make permanent repairs to the Smith Swim Center over the summer, but it is too early to determine the cost of the project.

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