Tuesday, March 03, 2009
"Money goes down drain", Post Star 3/3/09
Devices to heat mineral baths go cold, as expected
By DREW KERR
Updated: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 10:31 AM EST
SARATOGA SPRINGS - We had to do something.
That, in essence, is the sentiment from state officials who installed a pair of conventional water heaters at the Roosevelt Bathhouse in an effort to provide visitors with warm soaks in pure mineral water last summer -- an endeavor they say was undertaken even though they knew the heaters would fail.
The facility was prompted by the state to come up with a way to provide heated, pure mineral water baths after it was publicly revealed in 2007 that the bathhouse was using heated tap water to warm the icy, effervescent fluid that emerges from the springs at Saratoga Spa State Park.
After the tap water issue came to light, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, then-state Sen. Joseph Bruno and current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo accused spa staff of failing to disclose the practice, which had persisted for nearly two decades following a boiler break at the facility.
Read more from Saratoga on Saratoga Snippets
Follow the Saratoga reporters on Twitter
Under scrutiny to remedy the situation quickly, parks staff announced last June that two of the roughly 40 tubs at the historic bathhouse had been retrofitted with water heaters that could bring the 52 degree mineral water to a more comfortable temperature in two of the baths.
But rushed to complete the work, crews installed a pair of off-the-shelf, domestic water heaters they knew would not withstand the corrosive effects of the minerals flowing through them for long.
The heaters failed shortly after the end of the 2008 tourist season and have not been replaced since, said Alane Ball Chinian, the regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"It was a quick and dirty job and, with normal water heaters, we knew they would fail because of the corrosive nature of the mineral water," she said.
The two heaters cost the state a total of $5,974, she said.
For Louise Goldstein, a persistent critic of the park's management, any money that was put into the fruitless effort is disappointing, given the financial crunch the parks department is facing.
"To spend that money for nothing is just astounding," she said.
A second pair of baths was retrofitted with heating units soon after the first units were installed -- these with a customized system designed to keep the water in perpetual motion to prevent the minerals from eating into the pipes.
That system cost nearly $98,000 and remains functional.
But there are no plans to install such a system on other tubs because, staff members say, the consumer demand simply isn't there.
"There hasn't been a single time when we have had to turn someone away," Michelle Calzada, the spa's manager, said of the two heated pure mineral water tubs.
There are nearly 40 baths at the famed spa, which opened at the state park in 1935.
Water for the remaining tubs is warmed to 97 degrees with tap water, a fact that is now denoted prominently in the spa's advertising.
Sessions cost $25 for 40 minutes -- pure or mixed -- and are described as "the cornerstone of our luxury spa experience."
The bathhouse is now operated by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts Inc., which began leasing the facility in 2008.
The company is putting $450,000 of its own money into updates, including new furniture, a refurbished lobby and a new "relaxation room."
» Subscribe to The Post-Star and save! Click here to find out how
» Subscribe to email and cell phone alerts and breaking news