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Weak economy sinks Aqua Pools
Out-of-work includes illegals; 80 pools left undone
Aqua Pool & Spa customer Mark Findley of Castro Valley tired to find answers at the Moffat Boulevard business Friday. He has invested more than $115,000 in his unfinished swimming pool. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Aqua Pool Design Center on Moffatt Boulevard in Manteca has taken a knockout punch after a bank has reportedly called in a multi-million dollar loan.

The design center gates were locked Friday morning and the construction compound located to the west had its gates padlocked as well.   More than three dozen idled work trucks filled the fenced yard surrounding a multi-door garage facility.

Richard Townsend of Ripon – owner of the company – went on television Thursday night and told of his firm’s financial predicament, saying he had been able to weather other down turns in the economy over the years but not this one in 2010.  In the past the firm has reportedly built more than 1,000 pools a year.

Puzzled pool construction workers filled the sidewalk and street in front of what the company describes as the largest pool design center in the world.  All but three spoke only Spanish saying they had been told last week not to come to work because there was nothing to do – adding they had not been warned of the closure.

Some workers, unable to speak English, were described as being illegals that had purchased their Social Security cards.  Those being illegal will have little recourse against the company for not being given a 60-day warning of the being laid off as required by the WARN Act.  However, a bankruptcy filing would negate that requirement altogether, according to Debbie Duplichan, employee training supervisor and Rapid Response coordinator of the San Joaquin County WorkNet.    

One spokesman for the group said they had not been called back to work despite there being some 80 pools currently under construction – half of those in the Bay Area with the remainder in the Central Valley.  He said that the men standing in wait in front of the majestic Aqua Pool Center were hoping to get their pay checks and to be able to pick up their tools that were locked inside.

The employee said they had been promised to be paid on Friday.  When that didn’t happen a representative of the company reportedly told the men to come back on Monday for their checks.

Police had been called to the business when fears arose that the assembled group might get out of hand, but they showed restraint and remained calm questioning how they were going to pay their mortgages and further support their families.

The gates were locked and the contents of the buildings had been trucked out sometime during the past week up to Thursday night, workers said.  Telephone calls were not being answered in the Manteca offices.

Customers left holding the bag
One customer, Mark Findley, drove to Manteca from Castro Valley to get answers as to when his $135,000 pool would be scheduled for completion.  He said he was told to get off the Aqua Pool property or police would be called and he would be charged with trespassing.   

Outside Findley’s back yard staircase is a 60-foot-long trench, three feet deep that he claims is a danger to his grandchildren playing in the area.  His 40 by28 foot pool was designed with a 30-foot slide and three waterfalls along with a granite barbecue island.

“They don’t show up – they don’t call me back,” he said.

The Castro Valley man said he has already paid the firm $115,000 and ordered an additional $10,000 in pool furniture to accent the artistry in his pool.  He added that his wife is deathly ill at home and any stress only complicates her medical condition.

Findley said his pool site calls for solar panels, a 500 gallon propane tank and 350 feet of fencing.

He and a Modesto customer, John Llorens, were sharing stories on the sidewalk in front of the pool center, saying they both had someone working at their houses last week. They both had their pools gunited and were waiting for their pumping equipment to be installed.

“You don’t file bankruptcy overnight.  They knew 30 days ago,” Findley charged.

Llorens said the pool construction crew came to his home the week before last and went like gang busters in digging the hole and guniting the pool – taking less than a week.   He explained that he has been waiting for the pebble tech work and the four inch water line tile, saying he learned through workers the firm hadn’t been installing any pool equipment at their job sites.

Another customer drove up across the street from the pool center asking what was going on at the facility.  He was a salesman who had taken the morning off work to talk about a lien that was being placed on his house by an Aqua Pool supplier.  He sat in his car visibly dumbfounded that the business was closed.

He said he had paid $20,000 already for his uncompleted pool with a Modesto supplier sending him a letter that they would file the lien if he didn’t pay them $2,800 by the end of the month.  The customer charged that Aqua Pool had ordered the pebble tech granules and put his name on the invoice from the supplier.

“They took the money from everybody and left them high and dry,” he said.

San Joaquin County Rapid Response coordinator Debbie Duplichan spoke to the group of workers telling them she could help them file unemployment benefit applications adding that many of them – excluding illegal workers – would also be offered retraining as truck drivers.

“Nothing can be done for the illegals – nothing we can do for them,” she said.

Those seeking help from WorkNet may go by the Manteca office at 302 Northgate Drive or call the office at 825-1307.