By Sean Bowes

The New Tampa Family YMCA in Tampa Palms is planning to heighten security around its building with higher fences and possibly video surveillance equipment after someone drained almost all of the water out of its Olympic-sized pool in an act of vandalism.

Sometime after the YMCA’s holiday party on December 11, which ended at 9 p.m., an unknown suspect scaled a six-foot fence that surrounds the pool and tampered with the valves and levers, letting more than 400,000 gallons of water drain out of it.

YMCA aquatic director Andrew Palumbo says he received a call around 5:15 a.m. the next morning after a worker noticed that nearly all of the water had gushed out into a nearby retention pond.

YMCA officials believe that the suspect had some knowledge of working on swimming pool systems.

“I was in disbelief,” says Palumbo. “There was only two to three feet of water left in the pool when I arrived.”

The 50-by-25-meter pool is the largest in Tampa and is 7-foot-6-inches deep at its deepest point. Olympic-sized pools, like this one, hold more than half a million gallons of water.

Many swimmers regard it as the finest pool for competitive swimming in the area, while many other groups also utilize the pool for casual swimming, exercising and socializing. All were affected by the pool’s draining.

“The first group (that was affected) was a program for a group of wounded veterans who use it for water therapy,” says YMCA spokesperson Rebecca Bray, “For some of the veterans it’s the only chance they get to be mobile. I don’t think the person (or persons) who did this realizes the extent of the damage they caused.”

At least eight programs have been temporarily cancelled or relocated due to the draining of the pool, including the YMCA’s 115-member competitive swim team, a synchronized swimming team and a group of seniors who use the pool for water aerobics. Additionally, the pool is used regularly by some of the 10,000 members of the New Tampa YMCA branch. Many of the members utilize the pool on a daily basis, since it is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Palumbo says there is a silver lining from the incident — the way the New Tampa community has pulled together to make sure everyone is able to participate in the YMCA’s programs in spite of the vandalism.

“Compton Park and Tampa Palms Country Club have really stepped up,” says Palumbo. “They have allowed our swimming teams and other programs to use their facilities.”

When asked why someone would want to drain the pool, YMCA officials are dismissing it as a prank aimed to spoil some fun during the holidays.

“I’ve been telling everyone that it was someone with a Grinch-spirit for the holidays,” says Bray.

Filling the pool has been a hassle in itself. Workers attempted to refill it the day it was discovered drained; however, there were air bubbles that had gotten into the system and it had to be drained again. YMCA officials must steadily pump water into it from a makeshift PVC hose attached to a fire hydrant which will pour water in to it 24 hours a day until the pool is filled.

This unexpected draining marks the third time the pool has been emptied in its 100-year history. It was drained twice before for repairs and maintenance. When the drain valves are opened, the chlorinated water gushes into a retention pond, which was built specifically to hold water when the pool needs to be drained.

Taking in to account the cost of filling the pool, the time of the staff and damage to the pumps, spokespersons for the YMCA are estimating the damages to be somewhere around $3,000, including what they will anticipate to be a high water bill.

“We’ll know how much it (actually) cost after we check the water meter,” said YMCA executive director Tom Goode.

According to TPD, the suspect could be charged with criminal mischief causing more than $1,000 in damage, which is a felony.

YMCA officials are asking anyone with knowledge of the incident to call TPD at 231-6130.

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