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Partial collapse of Dormont pool parking lot has mysterious origin

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 1:45 p.m.
A massive “sinkhole” is shown in the Dormont Pool parking lot, Friday, after the ground fell in Wednesday, when the roof of a concrete box buried under the parking lot collapsed. Photo taken March 1, 2013. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

The origins of a buried, concrete box as big as a mobile home that collapsed and caused the parking lot of the Dormont recreation center and pool to sink are a mystery.

The hollow box — 20 feet wide, 50 feet long and 10 feet deep — started collapsing Wednesday, causing everything above it, including dirt and several parking spaces, to fall in with it.

“We don't think it's any cause for alarm or anything. It's just something that was underground that nobody knew about,” borough Manager Jeff Naftal said.

The recreation center remains open and repairs should start Tuesday and be completed in two days at a cost of about $6,400, Naftal said. The swimming pool isn't scheduled to open for another three months.

The collapse occurred in the parking lot in front of the recreation center, close to Dormont Avenue. The pool is behind the recreation center.

“The concrete had deteriorated badly. We don't know how long (the box was there) or what it was used for at this point. It's not on any of our maps or any of our drawings,” Naftal said.

Dormont Council President Willard McCartney speculated the box, buried seven feet underground, could have something to do with sewers being installed in the area in the early 1920s.

“So we don't know if it was an early septic system or sewer system or water storage,” he said.

Recreation center employees noticed the parking lot collapse Wednesday, and the collapse continued overnight into Thursday, Naftal said.

Borough workers started excavating the area on Thursday, he said. Dormont hired a Penn Hills contractor, Niando Construction Inc., to finish the work next week and determine whether the collapse damaged any pipes, he said.

Avalon resident and cab driver Shawn Fenk, 50, who was raised in Dormont, often parks his cab in the parking lot of the recreation center while waiting for fares.

“It's a mess,” said Fenk, who worked as a lifeguard at the pool when he was a teenager.

On Friday, he took photos with his cell phone to post on Facebook — the hole is a hot topic online for him and out-of-state friends who grew up in Dormont, he said.

The recreation center was built in 1929. The pool dates to 1920 and is open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.

In 2002, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation designated the pool as a historic landmark. At the time, preservationists called it the largest municipally owned pool in Pennsylvania.

It was on the verge of closing in 2006, as deferred maintenance caused leaks and the bath house to be declared unsafe. The Friends of Dormont Pool formed to raise money to offset some costs and raised more than $100,000 to date.

Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this story. Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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