Speed records were set in Indianapolis long before any swimmer rippled the water in the temporary pool constructed for the 2004 FINA World Swimming Championships at Conseco Fieldhouse on Oct. 7 to 11.
Although planning began two years ago, a mere 10 days was allotted for construction –– and only three for demolition after the event –– due to the busy schedule at Conseco, home of the Indiana Pacers basketball team.
“Not only is this the first time the World Championships have been held in Indianapolis,” said Connie Israel, vice president of operations of the organizing committee of the World Swimming Championships, “it’s the first time there’s been such a tight time frame for construction. The last time it took five weeks.”
Luckily, the operations vice chair of the Organizing Committee for the World Championships, Mike Dilts, also is president of Indianapolis-based contractor Shiel Sexton –– not to mention a former swimmer and a volunteer for swimming events at Indianapolis’ Natatorium.
Dilts helped organize a volunteer organization that included his company, the Myrtha Pool Group, Spear Corporation (in charge of water, pipes and filtering), Elrod Corporation (responsible for decking and scaffolding), scores of subcontractors and the Indianapolis Fire Department.
All were instrumental in pulling off the tightly choreographed construction effort. Dilts is proud of the fact that other than the building of the pools by Myrtha, all other architectural and construction facets of the project were handled by Indianapolis firms.
“It was a real community event and effort,” said Israel. Noting that work was completed on schedule, she “can’t say enough about Mike Dilts,” and credits the success of the project with the decision to rely on community experts.
In addition to the pro-bono work done by Indianapolis companies, Indiana Sports Corp. underwrote the $750,000 cost. John Dierdorf, COO of Indianapolis design firm Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, estimated a similar project of equal size, scope and speed would normally cost several million dollars.
“This is going to change how swimming championships are held,” she speculated.
She predicted that future events will be held in big arenas like Conseco because of their ability to “showcase the event” with theater lighting and sound, and revealed that FINA is considering Indianapolis as a permanent site.
“They loved it,” Israel said. “They want to return. The opening ceremonies were enhanced with light effects, music and synchronized swimming,” Israel added. “We couldn’t have produced a show like that in a regular natatorium.”
“Temporary pool technology has been available for 5 years,” said Newberry. “But this is the first time it’s been done in 10 days.”
Some of the Shiel Sexton crew even traveled to Barcelona to watch the installation of a temporary pool to pick up tips. But the time frame and other parameters defined by Conseco created specific challenges for the crews.
Time was a crucial component. More than 100 people worked around the clock trying to beat the clock. On Sept. 13, The Indiana Fever women’s basketball team played its final home game in Conseco Fieldhouse. The flooring was then stored to make way for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which closed Sept. 19.
The first 13 rows of seats were then removed so that construction for the Swimming Championships could begin by midnight Sept. 22.
“We’ve done things that are more complex,” said Dilts. “But the timing of this makes it so critical. The last thing I wanted to have to do is explain to Ian Thorpe and the Aussies that we’re going to have our first couple of races at the IU Natatorium.”
Another constraint that crews had to contend with was Conseco’s floor. Because of the ice-making equipment under the concrete needed for hockey, figure skating and ice shows, it was not possible to drill into the floor to anchor the pools.
“We weren’t allowed to attach anything to the floor,” confirmed Newberry. Instead, they designed 40 precast concrete footings, each 6 ft. wide by 10 in. thick.
“Everything bolted to those,” explained Newberry. Weighing 14,000 lbs., the footings were brought in on 10 flatbeds. “Space was so tight, we could barely fit a flatbed on the floor to get them in there.”
Once in, it was still difficult to move the footings into place. “Typically we would use a crane to unload and place them,” Newberry said. “But we had to use a forklift there. We had to get a Cat that was small enough to maneuver in the space.”
Two pools were required: a 25-meter, eight-lane competition pool and a warm-up pool with a privacy canopy.
The 6-lane practice pool’s size was determined by the space available, said Israel.
Dierdorf designed the pools to fit into the Fieldhouse. They were then built to Dierdorf’s specifications by Myrtha Pools, an Italian company that specializes in these models.
Myrtha built similar pools for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the World Championships in Perth, Australia, and the U.S. Olympic Trials in Long Beach.
“We all know they’re temporary pools,” Dilts said. “But they need to look like they’re permanent, so they had to be built the right way.”
Newberry said the bracing, gutter, liner and walls all came from Italy. “Four overseas containers arrived in July and were stored in a warehouse until work began,” he said.
The “tubs,” as Dilts referred to the framework and vinyl pool membranes, consist of 182 stainless steel panels and 15,000 sq. ft. of vinyl.
Because the pools had to be constructed above the existing floor, the pool deck was about 8 ft. up off the floor and the water level reached the bottom of the backboards. With the lower rows of seats removed, no spectators sat below water level.
Approximately 500,000 gal. of water was pumped into the two pools and surge tanks by the Indianapolis Fire Department, using pressurized hoses.
“The Water Company asked us to wait until Sunday at midnight to fill the pools so we wouldn’t reduce the water pressure downtown during peak times,” Newberry said.
Two heaters and filters “sized for the volume and time frame” were required, Newberry said. “The water came out of the ground warmer than we expected.
“We thought it would be about 55 degrees, but it was 71 degrees. That made the job of heating it a lot easier,” he added.
Two 20,000-gal. surge tanks under the decking collected overflow water from both pools. The water flowed from one pipe to the “filter farm” to be treated and heated before returning to the pools. More than 1,600 ft. of piping make up the “filter farm,” as the filtration system was dubbed.
Two gas heaters kept water at 80 degrees. Approximately 300 lbs. of calcium hypochlorite and 200 gal. of muriatic acid were used to treat the water, plus 3 gal. of an enzyme that breaks down lotions and body oils.
When construction began at midnight on Sept. 22, the moves were orchestrated to within 15-minute intervals.
“There were about 10 things going on at once,” said Dilts. The first 16 hours were devoted to staging: putting all the pieces in the proper order so the process could proceed smoothly.
After the lower 13 rows of seats had been removed to make room for the pool deck, the crew welded metal reinforcements in a grid on top of the floor, maneuvering the concrete slabs into place to serve as a floating foundation for the two pools. The metal banding kept the concrete footings in place.
On day four, a two-in. layer of sand (to keep television cameras from picking up the metal banding underneath) was spread to cover the metal on the bottom of the competition pool. Then, 182 stainless steel walls were erected on both pools, surge tanks were put in place between the pools and construction of the pool deck began. Stairs span the eight feet between the floor level and the deck level.
On day five, 15,000 ft. of reinforced light blue vinyl lining was placed in the competition pool and smoothed atop the sand. Black vinyl lane stripes were heat-bonded into place, on the sixth day. The Indianapolis Fire Department began pumping water from a hydrant on Pennsylvania Street into the heating and filtering tanks on the south side of the Fieldhouse. Firefighters worked through two nights. Several days were required for filtering, clarifying and heating the water.
The canopy was placed above the practice pool and the pool deck over the surge tanks and pipes was completed on day seven. The crew also put blue carpet on the deck and began construction of an award stand.
A timing system and underwater cameras were set up before the pool was tested Oct. 3, one day before it opened to swimmers.
At 11 p.m. on Oct. 11, an hour after the closing ceremony, 100 people converged on the Fieldhouse to begin the teardown.
The chemicals were removed from the water before it was backwashed into the city sewer system. Newberry noted that they obtained a permit to discharge the large volume of water.
“We were worried what could happen if it rained,” he said. Fortunately, it didn’t.
The pool components were disassembled and stored, to be sold or possibly reused if Indianapolis is chosen as the site for the 2008 Olympic Trials. Given three days to do the job, Newberry said the crew completed it in just 27 hours.
When Dilts first heard of the possibility, he thought it was exciting and intriguing, and he wanted to be part of it.
He considered it “the ultimate job for construction guys.” Commending the collaboration of local talent, Dilts summed up his satisfaction by saying, “It all came together. It took a lot of teamwork and a lot of ingenuity. It went as smoothly as it did because everyone involved had one goal: do it right and do it in record time.”
Setting that record allowed swimmers to strive for records of their own. “Four world records were set during the Championships,” said Newberry. “That’s a real thrill for us.”