A unique renovation allows Vincennes, Indiana, to continue to enjoy its 80-year-old pool.
The city of Vincennes, Indiana, has been blessed with an incredible 80-year-old aquatic facility, which locals call “Rainbow Beach.” The idea for this aquatic center was born in 1937 as a federal works progress administration project, with the initial goal of providing jobs for unemployed workers during the Great Depression. It was also intended to address an alarming increase in the number of children drowning while swimming in the nearby Wabash River.
Initially designed by the local architectural firm Sutton & Routt, the aquatic facility was an innovative, one-of-a-kind pool with a sandy beach surrounding its waters and a tall tower in the middle from which water cascaded in front of a variety of colored lights. This distinctive lighting feature gave the water a “rainbow” effect and its subsequent name. It was one of the first public pools to incorporate both a water and light feature, not to mention a “beach entry” for patrons.
Rainbow Beach is the largest and oldest aquatic facility in Indiana. From 1937 until 1969, it was a summer destination for families throughout Indiana and neighboring Illinois. Postcards from the 1940s called it “Indiana’s most beautiful bathing beach.” Many of those who visited the facility in the 1940s remember the sand beaches, the ornate planter urns with water fountains pouring into the pool, the colorful lights at night, the multiple diving boards and the diving tower in the center of the pool.
By the mid-1960s, the massive use of Rainbow Beach caused officials to have to decide whether to close the facility or make extensive repairs. In 1971, the decision was made to redesign the pool, removing the sand beaches and adding regulation swim lanes. After the initial redesign in the early 1970s, the pool was once again heavily used for another 40-plus years, when wear and tear once again forced a re-examination of the pool and its surrounding amenities.
Grassroots Movement Saves Rainbow Beach
The fond memories Vincennes residents have of Rainbow Beach led to a grassroots, citywide effort, by the residents and businesses alike, to raise taxes and sell bonds to completely renovate the facility and restore it to be a showcase centerpiece for the city.
This municipally owned aquatic center is adjacent to Gregg Park, which is part of Vincennes Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Steve Beaman was one of the residents whose childhood memories fueled his passion for the renovation. “I remember riding my bike with my buddies to the pool when I was in middle school,” he recalls. “It was the place to go.” Beaman spent weeks sharing his vision for a new Rainbow Beach, and the more he spoke to people about it, the more he heard similar stories that proved to him Rainbow Beach had a strong generational tie to the community. It was a part of the local history that residents wanted to keep for future generations.
The New Design
The Rainbow Beach renovation and new construction was budgeted at $3.4 million. Through an overall bond, $3.8 million was raised for the complete renovation, which would include four different bodies of water — three pools and a splashpad, a climbing wall and a lily pad walk (paid for by additional donations provided by citizens and local businesses after the job went to bid), a bathhouse and a new concession area that opens to both the Gregg Park and to the pool area. Once the money was raised and the project put out to bid, the contract was awarded to RenoSys Corporation, in Indianapolis.
The new facility was scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend to usher in the first day of summer. However, as with any major construction project, there were several challenges that delayed the opening until July:
Demolition and weather challenges: The demolition of the pool took almost three months — from early September through late November — primarily due to the discovery of an unusually thick section of concrete under the original pool. This was in addition to the removal and off-site disposal of 51,940 square feet of existing concrete pool deck, all of the pool walls and the existing pool plumbing, and the existing 4,360 square feet of the original building and its internal components.
In mid-December, the steel wall structures for the three main pools were installed, but an unusually cold winter and extremely wet spring was not conducive to pouring concrete.
Mechanical/pump room challenges: Rainbow Beach, with four separate bodies of water in one area, was particularly challenging. The design could become disorderly without considerable advanced planning and flow. Arranging an organized mechanical/pump room allows for more efficient operation of the pools and for easier equipment service and maintenance. None of the four pools share equipment because each body of water has a different turnover rate per state and local codes. For example, the diving pool, which has a much lighter bather load than does the wading pool, does not need to have its water turned over as often.
Rainbow Beach was updated with environmentally friendly operation systems and is such a “showcase” aquatic facility for the region, that every detail was taken into consideration, including the pool gutter system. “Often in the process, the sizing for the perimeter gutters are an afterthought, but this can lead to troubles down the line,” says Jason Mart, CEO of RenoSys. He explained that in this case, the gutters, which were made of U.S. stainless steel, were all custom fit according to the flow characteristics of each body of water. These stainless-steel gutters combined with the plumbing, form a built-in trough with pressurized filtered water inlet supply returns. In fact, the maintenance and repair costs of stainless-steel gutters are less because they eliminate buried pipes that can break because of freeze/thaw damage or ground movement — providing long-term preventative savings.
Open for Summer Fun
Since Rainbow Beach reopened, the residents of Vincennes and the surrounding communities have enjoyed the facility and it’s again packed with bathers daily. These pools would never have been a reality without the determination of the Vincennes community and the forethought of a few individuals. In fact, this pool was recognized by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns with a ‘Community Achievement Award’ because of the collaborative efforts of city officials, the business community and determined residents who literally walked the streets promoting the project. Rainbow Beach is now back to its previous glory and is, once again, a show-piece aquatic facility and park for the state of Indiana.
According to Beaman, families come from over an hour away to use the aquatic facility. The city of Vincennes and its parks department are proud they have had a city pool available to its citizens for more than 80 years. “The Rainbow Beach Family Aquatic Center is like having a waterpark in our own backyard.” says Beaman. “The commitment of this community to make our dream a reality speaks volumes of our love for our city and always trying to make it better.”
Gary L. Novitski is Vice President of the Commercial Division of Stainless Steel Pools and Spas for RenoSys Corporation