CHICAGO (STMW) – The Illinois Department of Public Health has shut down over 500 swimming pools state-wide, including nine south suburban high schools and dozens of other area locations from hotels to condo associations to community pools.

The pools were closed as of Saturday for failure to comply with a mandate to install a new, safer drain.

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“We’re hoping to get it fixed ASAP,” Oak Forest athletic director Sue Bonner said. “We’re scrambling right now because we can’t host practices or meets until we are allowed back in the pool. You can’t cancel the season. We’re working with other schools right now, scrambling for pool time.”

Oak Forest, Bremen, Hillcrest and Tinley Park, all in Bremen Dist. 228, have had their pools closed, as have Argo, Homewood-Flossmoor, Mount Carmel, Reavis, T.F. South and Thornton High Schools.

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Bonner said other schools in the South Suburban conference have been approached for available pool hours until the drains have been fixed. For some though, available pool hours are slim. The pool at Richards High School in Oak Lawn remains open after the new drains were installed this summer.

“As a coach, I know this is an important time of the year (for swimmers),” Richards coach Joel Staszewski said. “It’s tragic, and I wish we could help, but our pool is almost totally utilized with us, club teams, swim lessons. I feel for that district (228). This is the time of the year you’re getting ready for sectionals, and it’s bad, really bad.”

The new drains are required under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. In 2002, 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker drowned after she was trapped underwater by the suction from a hot tub drain. The act was signed into law in 2007 requiring anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices.

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