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As a brief rain shower ended and a water-quality talk began at Stetson University’s Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center May 9, a loud hum filled the air. Outside, tucked near the south side of the building in a low-lying wetland area, a water pump was steadily draining the rainwater.

Then, guests who walked out on the balcony after the talk to take in the surroundings, and check out the source of the noise, were surprised to see a sheen of oil glistening in the setting sun on the water surrounding the pump.

Possible contamination of the wetland and nearby Lake Beresford was certainly an ironic situation at the new high-tech and low-impact $7 million building at 2636 Alhambra Ave., on the banks of Lake Beresford. The water pump was operating because of an equal irony: the Aquatic Center has a water problem.

Two months after its ribbon-cutting, the building has yet to get its certificate of occupancy from the county — a necessity to be able to use the offices that comprise much of the bottom and top floors — because there isn’t enough water pressure for the fire-suppression system.

Despite the building being surrounded by water, Stetson needed to build a 22,000-gallon potable-water cistern, and a concrete slab to sit it on, to supply the necessary pressure so that the fire-suppression system complies with county code.

The pump was removing water so the slab could be poured.

To the consternation of the environmental scientists and water experts who intend to use the building, and who attended the talk, the site chosen for the tank is on the only remaining wetland on the 10-acre property.

By the morning following the talk, a small group of Stetson officials and the contractor in charge of laying the cement foundation, as well as a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer, had converged on the pump, which was no longer running.

Once the pump was removed, Brian Hardy, of Hardy Construction, quickly realized that a bolt had backed out of its housing, allowing small drops of motor oil to periodically drip down into the water. The dipstick indicated the motor-oil reservoir was still full, so officials believe only a small amount actually reached the water. The FWC official, a Stetson spokesman reported, said the oil was incidental.

Nevertheless, as befitting the home of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, all the water under the pump, the topsoil, and any absorbent material were removed and sent for testing.

“There will be a temporary hiatus in construction activity at the Aquatic Center as potential alternative solutions are investigated,” Assistant Vice President of Media Relations Janie Graziani said in an email. “Stetson is revisiting the tank’s location to be certain that the current location is the most ideal, given the potential for proximate research studies that can be undertaken, such as rain gardens.”

According to Stetson University Executive Vice President of Finance Bob Huth and Director of Project and Construction Management Matt Adair, who were both present May 10, reasons for locating the cistern in a wetland were mostly financial.

Because of the architectural, engineering and code requirements for the tank, they said, it would cost less if it was in a less visible spot. Thus, the south side of the building in the wetland was chosen. The area also meets the federal, state, and St. Johns River Water Management District requirements.

The exact comparisons of cost were not made available by press time.

“We are hoping that the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, as the home of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, can truly become a demonstration site for how to manage developed land along Florida’s waterways responsibly, and how to protect our surface and groundwater supplies from harmful pollutants,” Chair of Environmental Science and Studies Wendy Anderson said. “Thus, every action we take on this site is being watched very carefully by the university and the community.”


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