Safety of new splash pad in question



When former Building Inspector Jonny Ubelhor issued the certificate of occupancy for the Wetzel Park Splash Pad last week, he quickly began to regret the decision to sign off on the project.

Safety concerns over the splash pad were the focus of the June 22 City Council meeting, where staff and the Council worked through the timeline of events and discussed potential remedies for a missed inspection that would have guaranteed the pool decking on the splash pad, but even after corrective action was taken and the CO was issued, Ubelhor – who was abruptly terminated by the City Tuesday – has reservations.

On June 22, the decision was made by the City Council to create new deck bonding on the splash pad since there was no verified third-party inspection report confirming the work had been done. The new bonding would be accomplished by accessing the rebar from four edges of the pad and clamp the bond wire around the outside to achieve proper grounding. This would eliminate the need to cut into or break the slab to check for clamps and is work that could be done by City Public Works employees.

When Ubelhor was summoned to the park June 24, he said Liberty Hill COO Lacie Hale, Council members Kathy Canady and Liz Rundzieher, City Attorney Tad Cleaves, Planning Director David Stallworth, and Public Works Director Wayne Bonnet were all there, as well as Gerald Marinik who was hired to do a third-party inspection after the corrective action.

Ubelhor said the deck was still not bonded properly, claiming it was only bonded halfway around the deck, and the work was done with number 10 wire, not the number 6 Ubelhor had said previously should be used.

“I saw Gerald walking and said ‘Dude, this isn’t right’ and I said I’m not signing off on it and he said he’d initial it,” Ubelhor said, who added he was then asked to leave the site.

The report from Marinik dated June 24 does say the splash pad passed inspection for the bonding, but did note that number 10 wire was used.

“I told them at the Council meeting (June 22) what it would require for me to pass that,” Ubelhor said. “If they ran a bond wire around the whole deck and bonded it to the steel. Then on Tuesday I went and did my final inspections on the building, and everything was corrected, and I saw (Public Works Director) Wayne Bonnet there going around the splash pad of the deck. He only went like halfway around and I told him you have to go all the way around the whole splash pad and bond it in four places.”

But Ubelhor did ultimately sign the CO, citing the need for his job.

“I did do the CO based on Gerald Marinik’s deck bonding report, which is not to code,” Ubelhor said. “It was my bad, but I didn’t want to get fired. I needed the job.

“What they did was not to code, it is not even close to code,” Ubelhor continued. “I’ve been freaking out all weekend. I’ve been laying awake at night. If they open this somebody could get hurt and I’m going to be responsible. That deck is not bonded to code, it is not safe, according to the National Electric Code.”

In a written response to e-mailed questions from The Independent, Mayor Rick Hall wrote Wednesday morning that “the splash pad is safe, we have had two third-party contractors validate everything is correctly done and up to code and have had a commercial building inspection performed and it was passed and deemed safe and the city has issued the CO for the park.”

He did confirm that the grand opening planned for July 3 has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but added that the City is considering when to open the park for use prior to a grand opening event.

When asked about the City’s response to Ubelhor’s claim the splash pad wasn’t safe for use, Hall initially declined to address the safety question, saying only in an e-mail “So you are stating that Johnny{sic} issued the CO for the Splash Pad improperly because there was still issues with the project, that is interesting.”

In a subsequent statement, though, Hall referenced Ubelhor’s comments from the June 22 meeting on what action needed to be taken to get the CO issued, saying, “We did just that and also had a different inspector come and validate the work that was done along with Johnny{sic} and the project was deemed correct and finished and the CO was issued.”

Ubelhor said at the June 22 Council meeting he first addressed the deck bonding issue with contractors in October 2019 when he stopped at the site because he saw cement trucks present.

“I noticed there was no bonding in the pool deck they were fixing to pour,” he said.

He said he then called a representative of the contractor for the work to let them know the bonding had not been done and the contractor indicated it would be taken care of.

“When I got back to the office, in October, I sent an e-mail to Sally (McFeron), the owner of the pool company and the engineers and I told them I went by and saw the deck wasn’t bonded and they needed to make sure they got a third-party inspection report for it because I didn’t see it,” he said. “In February, they called for a building final inspection and I failed all their building final inspections and I put in there that there was no bonding in the splash pad.”

Ubelhor said he believed Hall knew of the issue at least by February, but Hall said he didn’t know that early, saying he could not recall the exact date but it was sometime in late May.

With the lack of an inspection report, leading up to the June 22 discussion, the City had resorted to grounding tests and ground-penetrating radar to try and determine if the work was done. Even though everyone involved agreed the work was likely done properly, no one was willing to sign off on the issue guaranteeing it was done correctly.

A grounding test for Ohms was conducted and read a 1.5. According to building code, a reading of nine or below is acceptable.

In addition to the later tests done to try and verify the bonding had been done, Hall, Hale and Stallworth tested the splash pad and had no issues or concerns after.

Hall asked each of the five Council members in turn June 22 whether they were comfortable opening the splash pad if this work was done and a certificate of occupancy was received. Each answered yes, with Tony DeYoung adding that he’d like to see more regular cleaning and sanitizing in the bathroom under the current situation with the COVID-19 virus.