Of Architects, other very silly individuals and Filters that cannot work.

There was one instance in the late 1990’s I was invited to design and install an electrically-heated filtration system to a very large Koi pond in the grounds of a large commercial bank. On my first site visit I saw the ponds, (there were three) which were professionally built from very detailed architect’s drawings.

The workmanship in build and finish carried out by a famous national building contractor was admirable to say the least. It also had ample depth to support Koi and some bottom drains to 4” diameter tube had been incorporated correctly. I roughly estimated the pond to hold some 170,000 UK gallons (770 tons).

The architect employed by the bank was in control of all the work on the site and I had to give him my exact plans and costings on providing filtration for the pond. On my first meeting with him I asked for an area reasonably near to the pond where I could design preliminary plans for the system required.

Large scale maps of the site were provided showing ample areas of ground that seemed to me to be perfect to me for the installation but the architect informed me that these areas of ground could not be excavated as ‘rare and priceless Roman catacombs’ that were protected by the National Trust were underneath these landscaped lawns right next to the banks of the River Dee.

The architect then pointed to a large room in the basement plan of the bank that could be employed to house the filtration units completely out of sight. He furthermore inferred that this was the only available area despite the huge grounds surrounding the buildings.

I asked then as to ways of accessing the basement and the reply came back that all entries and exits were via a large open-plan office where many staff would be working in normal daily hours.

I then enquired as to what exactly was above the basement and the reply came back that there were some fifteen floors all containing hundreds of bank staff.

After this, the architect insisted that I was to supply him with a ‘C.O.S.H.’ sheet for every single item I planned to incorporate and that these sheets would all have to be passed in advance of purchase by the health and safety officer at the bank.

Upon hearing this news I returned to the bank and was escorted through the large, air-conditioned modern office complete with busy staff in front of dozens of computer screens and the locked entry/exit door was opened for me.

Directly before me was a flight of narrow wooden stairs leading to the basement. My uniformed escort was equipped with a torch and together we looked around the available space.

I took details of dimensions and height and also noted exactly as to where the pond was in relation to the basement.

There was no doubt in my mind that the basement was large enough but, throughout my drive back to my office, warning bells were ringing in my head and words I had heard many years before came to me which were: –

‘Do not think about how much money you ‘COULD MAKE’ Peter, think instead of how much money you ‘MAY LOSE’.

That night I considered several banks of large, open filtration units bubbling away in the basement and then considered the millions of fly larvae forming that would find a perfect home to reproduce in their multi-millions and then escape into the offices above. I then considered the air conditioning and other aspects and then came to my final decision before going to bed.

The next morning I telephoned the architect to say that it was not possible to install correct filtration to the pond in the basement and then gave him my full reasons as to why.

The curt reply came back to say – ‘If you cannot do this, I will find someone else who can!’

Within two or three weeks another UK Koi company let all of us know, in no uncertain terms, that they, themselves, had been commissioned to install a state-of-the-art filtration system to a gigantic Koi pond by a very important commercial bank. It was advertised everywhere and step-by-step photographs were to be taken as well as a full video on completion of the project.

This hype increased as the weeks went by and the new installer proceeded with his secret plans that were to astound us all in the subject of ‘state-of-the-art Koi pond filtration secrets. And then, very abruptly, no further news was forthcoming. Soon the whole matter was forgotten although I knew that the subject would return – it just HAD to!

It was around 18 months later that I was contacted by the MD of the same bank to ask me if I could give a detailed, written and photographic report in respect of a Koi pond filtration system installed at the bank.

Now, I could converse with this MD, he turned out to be a long-standing private customer of mine and kept his Koi at home inside a conservatory in his house. He then informed me that it was he who had instructed the architect to contact me in the first instance.

Unfortunately I only knew this person as ‘John’ – I had no idea at all that he was the MD of the very bank in question! He asked me to go ahead with my report and then telephone him personally with my fee after the report was prepared and payment would be issued immediately.

I did and it was!

John then asked if I could resolve the situation and if I could, would I please prepare full plans as to the way to go. After several return visits to the bank I came up with the only plan I knew would work. I presented this to John who paid my account immediately after I had explained everything by words alone. He said he would contact me again soon.

I was then asked to attend a ‘breakfast meeting’ in his own office on a certain date at 7.30am and, if the date was good, overnight accommodation would be arranged for me. I agreed and, armed with my report, attended the hallowed office on time.

There before me was John, the MD of the building company, the MD of the electrical company plus the architect himself and the health and safety officer.

I was called upon to open the meeting and to relate my report as to the existing system that everyone had a copy of right before them. It was a simple condemnation written by me together with very detailed reasons and photographs as to exactly why the system did not work, could not work and would never work.

After my opening speech, the architect then suggested to John that the original installer should be called upon immediately to rectify all the problems that my report had itemised. Instead of a reply to this request, John beckoned us all to the large, full window in his office that looked down on the pond some 15 floors below and then asked his architect to give his views on the sight he saw before him.

There was below, a large expanse of stagnant thick green liquid and duckweed that was only broken in parts by many floating Koi carcasses each in varying stages of decay.

Before the architect could answer his question, John asked him exactly how he had located the original installer in the first place. The reply came back that he had bought a Koi magazine from a shop and then telephoned the Koi Company advertising in the magazine that was nearest to him.

I then thought to myself –

‘At last, a magazine advertisement that has paid for itself – and many times over!’

It was then that John asked his architect – ‘Do you think that the same company has any money, more to the point, do you think they are even still in business?’

No reply was forthcoming.

Next I was asked about my plan on resolving the situation and all ears pricked up as it involved all the listeners by way of new work to be carried out if the plan was passed. At the end of the meeting my proposal was accepted and then John hit me with a very firm deadline date for completion which was only three months away.

I asked for a day to consider this then returned to my office and started making endless telephone calls to specialist guys who I knew had the necessary and vital talent to assist me. Thankfully they all agreed. I then had to enlist other strong guys for the labour involved and daily food supplies together with many hotels and guesthouses for overnight accommodation in the area.

I rang John the next day to say it could be done but we would need day and night access to the bank for seven days a week. I also insisted that I would only answer to John himself for the duration of the entire project.

John agreed, I pushed the button and two large trucks set off to start breaking down the useless equipment and carry it back to their trucks through high class, modern offices together with the minimum of disturbance. Three days later we had two large waste containers outside my offices which included thirty-two 24” diameter Lacron sand filters, plus dozens of burned out U/V units, external water pumps in all makes, miles of 2” bore pressure pipe work and fittings together with hundreds of slide and ball valves. Then followed even more household drainage specification pipe work and fittings.

• And in all of this junk, there was not one single air pump to be found.

Customers visiting us that weekend were invited to help themselves for free from these waste containers but only a few rose to the invitation.

On the visit I made to make my first report, I took along with me two hefty young guys armed with assorted tools. We arrived in the basement with torches at the ready and a large bucket. I selected one sand filter and moved the multiport valve to ‘backwash’ position and listened to the screeching pump take on another tone. After a timed five minutes I changed the valve position to ‘rinse’ – the pump changed tone again. After a further three minutes I changed the valve to ‘filter’ position when the pump went back to a moan. In all that time not a single splash of water had hit the plastic sight glass on top of the unit.

After this, I took a saw and started to cut the pipeline coming directly out of the filter which should have been taking water to the pond. I asked a guy to hold the bucket under the pipe I was cutting in order to catch the expected flow of water, which I knew would not be there. The bucket was a standard 3-gallon size, once the pipe came away we timed the period it took to fill the bucket.

We sat down and lit a cigarette, 16 minutes later the bucket was almost full and it was tipped away down the drain. The open pipe was stopped from dripping any further by stuffing the pipe with an old rag. That gave us a return flow to the pond of 12 gallons per hour; there were thirty-two of these units in operation which meant a total return of 384 gallons per hour into a 170,000 gallon pond. That equalled to the entire pond being turned over for one complete cycle in every 18.5 days!

I sat back and wondered whatever had happened to the 2 to 3 hour turnover yardstick?

Before we left, we switched off the pump to the offending filter, then, the three of us took turns in removing the contents inside with our hands after first smashing the clear screw top that refused to budge with the aid of a suitable lump hammer.

This stinking mess was placed into plastic Koi bags that were sealed one by one in an attempt to prevent the obnoxious smell permeating the offices above. The very bottom of the unit contained a bed of slime and thick yellow solid bubbles resembling solid frog spawn or tapioca.

As to my work, lots of unknown problems surfaced which I had already taken into account for from past experience. One was we had to remove the flaking fibreglass work on all the ponds and then re-seal the concrete. We then had to re-fibreglass each pond but the rain prevented us and my guys were just standing around unable to work.

Within half a day there were huge marquees erected over the ponds plus hired heaters and air extractors installed despite cost protests from the sombre eagle-eyed architect who related this to me by telephone before I gave him my reply which was – ‘Take it up with John’.

New GRP work commenced one Friday afternoon, the extracted fumes rose upwards to be taken in by the air conditioner units on the roof of the building. This resulted in a mass walk-out of office staff when the health and safety officer rang me in a state of panic and I simply replied with my standard reply – ‘Take it up with John’.

I must admit, I enjoyed saying that!

The two formal ponds which overflowed into the left and right of the main pond were each fitted with three huge block-built circular filtration units which were capped and disguised completely by beautiful stainless-steel, hand-built capping rings at a cost that made one’s eyes water. The fitting and precise levelling of these by the manufacturer almost made the total cost double!

Specialist teams of diamond drilling companies then had to be employed to make necessary holes in many 18” (45cms) thick re-in forced walls. Surface skimmers were expertly cut into large granite blocks of copingstones and then disguised completely.

Biological filtration was completely concealed inside the six circular in-pond units (each measuring 2.5 metres in diameter) with very heavily aerated 18” (45cms) deep upward-flow, tailored filter mat cartridges.

When work in the basement was about to commence for pumps, U/V’s and pipe lines we requested the electrical contractor (we were not allowed to touch this work) to provide us with light by way of three 60w bulbs only – we did not need any fancy lampshades or diffusers. Maybe a total cost of £40.00 for materials and labour?

I happened to see, by mistake, the invoice just for this work, which was £1,600.00+VAT – I hate to think of the account for mains connection of two 32kw electric water heaters that I later supplied and installed.

I could go on but the job was completed and finally tested one whole day before the deadline. The system itself had been completed and was running fully some three weeks earlier, the Koi were introduced into a mass of bubbling, clear water some ten days later.

I have since avoided architects like the plague – especially where fishponds are involved.

• As a bonus I got the contract to carry out a weekly service and to supply all foods and any medications etc. The pond remained crystal clear and problem-free for some three more years until the bank decided to move to larger premises, soon afterwards, John retired and the entire pond was demolished!

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