City Council moves forward with pool project

A proposal for a new pool complex seen next to the existing facility, from a February city staff report.
While plans are moving ahead for building the new community pool, both the City Council and various citizen groups say they want to make sure the project is as environmentally friendly as possible.

The council on Monday unanimously approved issuing a “request for qualifications / proposals” for professionals to tackle architectural, engineering, planning and design work for the Piedmont Community Pool Project. Essentially, this is the formal call for professionals to express interest in working on the pool project.

But that 5-0 council approval was preceded by a robust discussion of whether Piedmont is shooting high enough to ensure the pool project meets the city’s ambitious environmental goals, including “net zero energy” developments in which — ideally — a project generates as much energy as it consumes.

Vice Mayor Tim Rood asked why the city’s Climate Action Plan, and its goals, are not mentioned once in the lengthy, detailed RFP/Q document. Several Piedmont residents called in to Monday’s meeting to bring up that same point.

Alice Sung said she favors that the pool project be powered entirely by electricity, including heating the pool water, a job that has traditionally relied on natural gas. Sung said all-electric projects are the “wave of the future.”

“We’d be remiss if we built a new pool with gas power,” Sung said.

Margaret Ovenden told the council it would be “unconscionable” for the pool project to use fossil fuels to any significant extent. “It’s the worst legacy that we can leave for our kids,” she said.

Moira Chapman agreed. “We really need to take the long view,” said Chapman, saying it would be sad if in the year 2035 local officials regretted the choice to go all out going green.

The expense of electricity compared to gas

George Samen, Griffin Structures’ project manager for the Piedmont pool project, said heating swimming pool water with electricity is far more expensive — by several fold — than if natural gas is used. It is possible to heat a pool electrically, he said, but it could make the Piedmont pool project prohibitively expensive.

And building an aquatic facility that is “net zero energy” would be a massive undertaking, Samen said. No such pool facility exists in the United States or Canada, said Samen, who said he wasn’t sure that is even possible. Swimming pools, he added, are typically “energy hogs.”

RFP first — then figure out how to make it environmentally friendly

Some council members seemed frustrated Monday night that a swimming pool project that would fit in well with the city’s ambitious Climate Action Plan will be a difficult and/or expensive proposition. One of them was Betsy Smegal Andersen, who said the best course of action now is not to hash out such details now, but to get that RFP/Q document out there and seek qualified professionals to help get the project moving along. The hope is for the new pool to open in Summer 2024. 

The RFP/Q document says one specific goal of the pool project is that it achieves LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification, a high rating for green building. Samen said further specific requirements can be formulated by the city working with the professionals chosen to be part of the pool project — those that successfully respond to the RFP/Q document.

Benoit agreed, noting that the RFP/Q document is not the same as a contract, and that there’s time and opportunity ahead for the city to formalize its wishes with the various subcontractors.

Said Councilwoman Conna McCarthy, “This isn’t the end of it — there are opportunities for this discussion to go forward.”

Samen said Piedmont can make its new pool as green as technology allows. “Are the citizens of Piedmont willing to foot the bill?”

Or as Benoit put it, “It’s one thing if you can do it — it’s another thing whether you can afford it.”

Contact Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “City Council moves forward with pool project

  1. Recently the City passed the controversial Reach Codes which will force convection cooking, heat pumps and other costly additions if certain remodeling dollar thresholds are met. These retroactive changes become very costly for those in older homes as more extensive construction is required to retrofit. The Reach codes were passed in an effort to eliminate natural gas as an energy source, reduce Green House Gases and put Piedmont on a path of environmental sustainability. Surely the City will make the same efforts with the new pool as they are imposing on individual homeowners. The pool is the single largest gas energy user in town and the new pool will be substantially larger; environmental and sustainability issues are even more critical. I supported the $20m pool bond measure and am disappointed that the City’s Climate Action Plan is not even given a token nod. This conversation is getting kicked down the road until decisions are made that will make the conversation mute.

    • Rick, I totally agree with your sentiment that the City needs to practice what it preaches to residents with its own construction projects. On the Reach Codes, however, you are under some incorrect assumptions. First of all, the Reach Codes nowhere require convection cooking in remodels (though anyone remodeling their kitchen or considering replacing their stove should definitely check out the City’s new free Cook Top Lending program, which lends out stand-along invection stove tops so that people can see for themselves how they perform against gas stovetops.) The Reach Codes focus mainly on solar for major roof remodels and home extensions (if conditions are right for solar at the specific site) and on getting people to upgrade from natural gas water heaters and furnaces, which are the main GHG emitters in our homes. We need to transition off natural gas and other fossil fuels by 2050, and hopefully sooner. More and more Piedmonters are adopting electric heat pump technology as their water heaters and furnaces reach the end of their lives, so this is where we are headed anyway. Installing any type of new fossil fuel-run appliance these days is, frankly, just irresponsible. Believe me, the potential financial impacts of the Reach Codes on residents were carefully studied, and there are various avenues for exemption if your project is too negatively impacted financially.

  2. To the comments about cost, I think Samen said the monthly electric bill for the Net Zero Mountainview pool was $20,000/month. So $250,000 per year. Spread over the 4000 Piedmont homes that will be assessed $1000/year for the pool, that comes to $65/year per household. I’d foot that bill to give my kids a zero carbon pool. And there are cheaper ways to get to a net zero pool. Heat pumps with onsite solar offer real potential to lower the electricity costs of an electric pool.

    Conna is right – there are opportunities for discussion. But how? The Pool Advisory Committee has adopted standard public comment rules, restricting direct dialogue between speakers and consultants. PAC meetings are a great opportunity for the City to engage the residents about this crucial design question, and educate residents about the Climate Action Plan (CAP) at the same time. Hopefully there will be robust discussion about the pool and the CAP, as there was with the development of the conceptual design.

  3. Thank you for covering this important topic. As someone who served on the taskforce that helped to develop Piedmont’s 2018 Climate Action Plan, I wouldn’t characterize its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as ambitious. They were at the time, as we adopted California’s then-targets. Since then, however, scientists and policy makers have determined that these targets need to be achieved even sooner. Biden’s goal is that we reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, and new targets are proposed in California as well.

    A few facts about the pool: 1) The old aquatic facility, which heated pool water solely with natural gas (a fossil fuel), TRIPLED the municipal sector’s GHG emissions when the City took over the pool. About 67% of the City’s emissions came from the pool while it was still in operation.

    2) The new aquatic facility will triple the square footage of the old pool. Even though the 2017 conceptual design includes some passive solar features, it still will rely on natural gas for 45% of the pool water heating. Because of the increase in pool surface area, the new facility would need 46% MORE natural gas to operate than the old pool facility needed in 2019. This clearly goes in the opposite direction of our CAP targets of reducing our emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

    3) The technology for building a zero emissions pool exists now. Piedmont Connect conducted a preliminary feasibility study, which showed that such a pool not only could be built but that it would be economically feasible to operate it. (A report on our study can be viewed at piedmontconnect.org.) More in-depth feasibility studies from two nearby cities were brought to the attention of Council on Monday, and we are studying them now.

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