The Community Gym portion of Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Center will likely remain closed until mid-September. (Photo by Hannah Flor/KFSK)

The Community Gym portion of Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Center closed on July 21st as the local borough began fixing sewer lines at the site. Residents won’t be able to use the gym, weight room, racquetball court, and other facilities until likely mid-September. The Petersburg Borough is paying for the fixes through a fund for unexpected maintenance projects.

The lobby of the Petersburg Aquatic Center, usually home to decorative fabric jellyfish and a few kids struggling to put socks on damp feet, is now crammed with weight machines and treadmills. It’s an attempt to provide a few of the services from the other side of the building that’s now closed. The gym and workout areas are blocked off for sewer line repair. Petersburg Borough’s Parks and Rec Director Stephanie Payne says that the plumbing issues are long standing.

“It started with one toilet, not flushing and then the water fountain wouldn’t drain and then we’re starting to see backups, you know, further down the line,  the sewer line over towards the Aquatic Center,” she said. “And so it’s just been getting worse and worse.” 

Last fall the center did an assessment of the problems. It turns out that the underground brackets that hold the sewer pipes are failing, which is causing the pipes to buckle. Payne says it has taken since last September to get all of the paperwork and contracts in order for repairs.

Part of that process included getting funding from the Petersburg Borough. Because the repairs were not scheduled, they were not in the annual budget. The money had to come from the Borough’s property development fund, which is used specifically for unexpected municipal maintenance. 

The Borough has contracted with Ketchikan Mechanical Incorporated to do the work at around $500,000. That’s more than half of what was in the fund. But Borough Manager Steve Gesibrecht says even if another big repair project comes up this year, the Borough has various resources to make sure it gets done.

“In general, most of those types of projects are within our means to pay for it,” he said. “Doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. We don’t like writing checks if we don’t have to, you know, it’s taxpayer money and we want to try to use it well, but, you know, we also want to keep our Parks and Rec department operational, and having bathrooms and showers is kind of a big part of that.”

While Ketchikan Mechanical Inc. is doing the job, they are sub-contracting with local company Rainforest Construction. Payne says having locals work on the project makes the whole thing run smoothly. That’s the cherry on the, on the sundae, you know,” she said. “I walk back there, I know most of the guys that are back there working, I can communicate with them. It’s like having my friends working on the building.”

The crew began work on Monday, July 24th, as soon as the paperwork was in order. Payne says summer is the slowest time for the community center, and she wanted to make sure that the bulk of the work was done during the slow months. But the finish date of September 15 means that school kids, who use the community gym for PE, will have to go elsewhere for the first couple weeks of school.

Payne says that Parks and Rec will put in extra effort to help find alternatives for the kids. “If we need to jump on deck and help, if they choose to bring all the kids down to the aquatic side for those two weeks, we can jump in and help and just make it right, make it work in any way that we can,” she said.

The sewer line work involves tearing up the flooring in some of the locker rooms. Parks and Rec doesn’t have enough replacement tiles to redo the floors, so they’re getting a makeover with “Viking Blue” epoxy flooring. That makes Payne extremely happy. “It’ll be a nice change,” she said. “And easier to clean. Stoked, stoked.”

Patrons will be able to see those new blue floors when the Community Gym reopens. Payne is hopeful that the work will be done before the hard end date of September 15th, and says that the public will be notified if that is the case.