Harbin’s Phase 1 rebuild is focused primarily – and appropriately – on Harbin’s exquisite mainside pools. So we caught up recently with Harbin’s Head Pools Consultant, Shah Luc Allard, and our Pools Manager, Abel Romero, to ask how the rebuild is going, and find out what’s new.
Shah has been the mechanical mastermind behind Harbin’s pools and their systems for well over a decade. “Because of the fire,” he said, “we had to redo all the pipes, pumps, systems – everything. And right now, with the heavy rains and all the new concrete work, it’s a bit like a war zone up there. But we’re definitely beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every day now, we have some new, finished piece of the puzzle put into place – and it is beautiful to see.”
When asked about what’s different at the pools, since before the fire, Shah pointed to Harbin’s new, ADA-accessible hot plunge. This new plunge is a mirror copy of the ADA-accessible cold plunge that we installed several years ago, and both are located just in front of the sauna.
The new hot plunge will be heated, at least in part, by a solar system – a welcome first for Harbin pools! “We always wanted to use solar,” Shah explained, “but we really don’t get a lot of sun here in the winter, when we most need the heat, and we didn’t have the space. With our new pump house roof, though, we have space now. So we’re doing an experiment. We’re starting with two solar panels, and sending the hot water to the new hot plunge. If it turns out we’re saving a lot of money, we’ll begin to expand the system, and use it to heat the swimming pool too.”
Shah told us that he has increased Harbin’s use of water-to-water heat exchangers, as well. These systems extract heat from one body of water, and use it to heat another. With Harbin’s mix of cold, warm, and hot pool temperatures, Shah explained, these heat exchangers can save significantly on Harbin’s energy costs.
In addition to controlling its temperatures, our Pools Department is also responsible for making sure the water in Harbin’s pools stays clean, healthy, and in full compliance with County and State regulations. Shah was delighted to tell us that Harbin will continue to be one of just three public facilities in the entire State of California not required to use chlorine to disinfect its pools. Harbin’s long-established system of cleaning its pools and their water with hydrogen peroxide (what our grandmothers used to disinfect cuts and scrapes) combined with ozone gas and ultraviolet light (including an improved version of UV, since the fire), requires much more complex systems. But it’s a far gentler way to disinfect water, is easier on the skin, has no noxious smell, and makes it much more pleasant and healthy for soaking.
Abel Romero joined our Pools Department as manager just prior to the fire, after many years as the much-loved manager of our Housekeeping Department. Abel has been getting up to speed on Harbin’s pool systems, so that he can keep them finely tuned when Shah travels; and he is primarily responsible for the daily operations of the department and its current staff of 12.
We asked Abel what he most appreciates about his new job. “I’m enjoying learning something new – about all the pool systems,” he said. “But mostly, I love the water. I grew up by a river, watching it flow every day, and to me water is one of those magical things. Working in these pools, having this water that comes up out of the ground, it’s very special.” He continued, “People come here from all over the world – different countries, cultures, religions. They all come stressed out and with problems; but when they enter these pools, it pretty much all goes away. That’s spiritual: they connect with themselves, their hearts, and each other. You don’t get that anywhere else.” We couldn’t have said it better.
Even as the rebuild is in process, most of Harbin’s pools are already filled with water. So as a final question, we asked both Abel and Shah if they’ve personally been going into the water themselves. “Every day,” Abel happily reported. Shah explained: “We have to,” he said, straight-faced. “To clean.”
Harbin’s Mainside Pools
When you next visit Harbin Springs, here are all the different pools you’ll be able to enjoy:
- Our body-temperature Warm Pool is recognizable by the simple white railing that is so familiar from Harbin’s logo.
- Harbin’s signature indoor Hot Pool, with its sculpted metal whale that spouts hot water.
- The Cold Plunge, with refreshing cold water, is up the stairs behind the Hot Pool, where Quan Yin lives and guests can alternate rounds of hot and cold soaking.
- The Heart-Shaped Pool is also body-temperature and ADA-Accessible.
- Harbin’s Swimming Pool, with its slightly warmed water (temperature-appropriate to the season and weather), is the place to swim laps, lounge about, and play underwater in the deep end. This pool is ADA-Accessible.
- The ADA-Accessible Cold Plunge is in front of our Sauna building.
- Brand new since the fire, the ADA-Accessible Hot Plunge will feature solar heat, and is in front of the sauna, facing the ADA-Accessible Cold Plunge – also handy for rounds of hot and cold soaking.
- And not yet constructed, but planned for the former site of the La Sirena Cafe and awaiting final permitting approvals, our new mainside Therapy Pool is where guests will receive professional aquatic bodywork sessions from our staff of remarkable practitioners, in quiet, landscaped privacy.