Editor's note: This article is the second part in a multiphase series on the Department of Parks and Recreation and its inability to maintain parks, gymnasiums, pools and other assets. A revolving door attached to the Department of Parks and Recreation director's office, inconsistent and poor leadership, and a lack of funding have led to the department's many assets having fallen into disrepair. Less than two months ago, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero appointed Roque Alcantara as the latest DPR department head. In this article, we learn that Sen. Kelly Marsh has asked Alcantara to start the process of recouping some of the $500,000 paid to Canton Construction for a two-year pools maintenance contract from which it was later fired.
Despite a string of closures due to improper maintenance and now the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic, the Hagåtña pool had been the place where islanders would go to cool off, recreate, play water polo, train and compete.
But, six months into the COVID-19-inspired, government-mandated islandwide lockdown, and with a hefty $500,000 price tag to make the pool useable, hope is sinking, and so is the pool.
“The main problem with the Hagåtña pool is that it is 50 years old and it was built on a swamp,” said Clayton Duvall, who has managed and maintained pools for over 40 years, including the Hagåtña pool.
The Hagåtña pool, when filled, which it has not been for many months even before the pandemic, holds “500,000 gallons of water, or 4 million pounds of weight,” Duvall said.
Add to that at least a couple million pounds of concrete structure, earthquakes, and the natural tendency of a swamp to be swampy, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand there will be an unstable structure, he added.
On Sept. 9, parks oversight committee Chairperson Sen. Kelly Marsh, Sens. Regine Biscoe Lee and Telo Taitague, Department of Parks and Recreation officials and board members, and stakeholders were on hand to take part in the virtual hearing.
During the meeting, which took just over two hours, Marsh asked Roque Alcantara, the newly appointed director of DPR, and Victor Villagomez, his deputy director, several pointed question on the Hagåtña and Dededo pools.
The conversation focused on solutions, better management practices, stopgap alternatives, and contacting the attorney general’s office to see if the government of Guam can recoup money for services not rendered.
In February, GovGuam fired Canton Construction and terminated the two-year maintenance contract, but not until it had paid out $500,000, 76% of the $660,000 deal.
Marsh asked Alcantara if he had written the AG or had a meeting with the AG to find out if the government can get any of the money that was paid for that contract.
“Is that something you’re still working on and, if you’re still working on, when will you get to that?” she added. “I would suggest just getting the ball started with the AG.”
With five directors in as many months, DPR’s leadership has become as unstable as the Hagåtña pool.
Alcantara, who has been at the helm for 47 days, acknowledged he would contact the AG regarding a solution to recoup the funds, saying, “we’ll discuss that later. I still need to do some research.
"Hopefully, I can see what I can come up with as far as getting some of the funding back," he added.
"Mr. Alcantara inherited a mess. The entire island is saddled with this mess," Duvall said.
During the meeting, Marsh asked Alcantara the status of the Dededo pools.
In February, due to unsafe swimming conditions, the pool was closed.
Alcantara said that about five contractors showed interest in the Dededo pool, and the General Services Agency has had the bids since Aug. 7, but had not awarded the contract.
The bid specifications, which were reported to the Post as containing provisions for cosmetic repairs and fine-tuning of existing equipment and controls, includes a two-year maintenance provision.
"This time around, we want to make sure that the contractor has extensive experience with maintaining pools. In the past, this has been an area of some concern, perhaps the contractor not having as much experience as is necessary," Marsh said.
“Hiring a qualified contractor to maintain the pool and equipment shouldn’t be a great difficulty,” Duvall said. “That facility is actually in pretty good shape.”
Once the contract has been awarded, and construction projects are allowed to resume after lockdown orders are lifted, Alcantara said, the pool should be operational within 60 to 90 days.
While the grand reopening will most likely alleviate some pressure and appease some stakeholders, not everybody is satisfied. One of the facility’s key features, a barely used slide, will be removed. Another slide, in the children’s play area, will also be scrapped.
“The large slide is deteriorating and also the small one,” Alcantara said. “We’re going to remove both of those slides, they are just rusted out.”
The Dededo pool, which celebrated its grand opening in December 2010 under the Gov. Felix Camacho administration, was funded by a series of federal grants - the majority from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant, the Department of the Interior, and a portion obtained through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Without enough funding to build an Olympic-size pool, the project fell short of expectations.
“They didn’t have the total funding to make it an Olympic-sized pool,” said Joann Camacho, who was appointed deputy director of the Guam Economic Development Authority in July.
“‘So, what do you do?’” she asked herself.
“‘So, we built the pool,’” she answered herself.
“‘Was it the right one?’” she queried.
“‘Probably not to everyone’s liking, but we built the pool and, yes, the kids used it,’” she answered.
"As a government, our downfall is we did not have the maintenance and political will to keep it maintained. So, that’s where we are today," she added.
“We were expecting an Olympic-size pool, a 50-meter pool by 25 yards or 25 meters,” said Chris Duenas, 28, a former Olympic swimmer and a coach for the Manhoben Swim Club. “That’s not what we got.”
For the past two decades, Duenas and the rest of the island have seen GovGuam’s and DPR’s shortcomings as to how the island's public pools have been maintained.
In 1999, at Southern High School in Santa Rita, GovGuam built an Olympic-size pool for the South Pacific Games. Immediately after the games, the pool fell into disrepair and has not been used since.
“It was damaged from the get-go,” an unnamed source told The Guam Daily Post. “It was to be the best pool in the Pacific this side of Hawaii.”
After SPG, the Guam Department of Education was supposed to maintain the pool, the source said.
“They really didn’t have an expert to run it,” the source added.
Camacho, a member of the government’s four-person task force burdened with the responsibility of locating a funding source and securing land for the construction of a new pool, joins the endeavor with Alcantara, Ray Topasna, the director of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority; and Sonny Perez, an account executive at GHURA.
"I think GEDA found a funding source," Camacho said.
“There should be no conversations of a new pool, that conversation started with Southern High,” Duenas said.
“‘How did that pan out? Who uses it?” asked an apparently frustrated Duenas. “Dededo pool, new pool, how did that pan out?”