Contractors surprise grandma by giving her a new swimming pool after her old one collapsed

At 80 years old, Kitty Smith decided it was time to purchase her dream home.

The interior of the south Indianapolis house needed a lot of work, but its backyard had something she had always wanted: an in-ground swimming pool. Before buying the property, she could already imagine all the fun her 29 grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have with it.

Smith used her life savings to buy the house. Last summer, as the pandemic spread across the country, her backyard pool became an outdoor safe haven for the loving grandma and her grandkids.

Kitty Smith's new home
screenshot: 11 Alive

“They were here, swimming and playing. I can’t tell you how great that was,” she told 13News. “This has just been my dream my whole life.”

Unfortunately, that dream was quickly shattered when the pool was destroyed after a night of snow in February.

When Smith looked out a back window, she was horrified to discover that her swimming pool had turned into a large hole filled with concrete and fiberglass. The walls of her precious pool had collapsed.

“My whole body just started going numb and shaking. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Smith recalled of her reaction to the rubble in her backyard.

It’s hard to tell exactly what happened after the homeowner hired a pool company to close up her pool for the winter. An engineering report says it may have collapsed because of a leak that allowed the pool’s water level to drop too low. That, combined with the placement of a newly-installed cover, could have created too much stress on the pool walls and led to its collapse.

Regardless of the culprit, Smith’s dream had turned into a disaster. Since February, she has had to look at the mess every day, and it just broke her heart.

Kitty Smith's grandchildren swimming in her in-ground backyard swimming pool
screenshot: 11 Alive

Adding to her disappointment is learning that her homeowners’ insurance policy wouldn’t pay a dime for it, despite having the same insurance company for over 40 years and paying for a policy that included replacement cost value for the in-ground pool. Unfortunately, any type of leak in the structure of the pool is excluded from coverage.

“I’m hurt by the way I’ve just been swept under the carpet,” she said.

It seemed she only had two options: to let go of her dream or come up with the costs of a new pool. Smith learned that a replacement pool would be $60,000, plus another $20,000 to clean up and remove the old one. However, she couldn’t afford it because she had already put everything she had into buying the house.

Smith shared her story with 13 Investigates to see if 13News could help her figure out who’s responsible for the collapse. However, she was told that getting to the bottom of such a complicated situation might take years.

So, 13News shared her story with some folks knowledgeable about swimming pools, and they created a plan to rebuild the heartbroken grandma’s pool.

A collapsed in-ground backyard swimming pool
screenshot: 11 Alive

Over the past few months, eight Indiana companies have come together to solve Smith’s dilemma.

Michael Shebek, the owner of Automatic Pool Covers, took the lead and contacted his network of pool industry suppliers and installers. He told them about Smith’s plight and asked if they would be willing to help, and many of them agreed to volunteer.

Within a few weeks, Shebek had received commitments from enough companies to replace Smith’s damaged pool with a brand new one—and they would do it all for free.

“I think it’s a perfect time to help somebody out like this,” said Mike Shadoan, the vice president of APC. “All these people are willing to donate their time and effort for free just to help somebody they don’t even know. It’s pretty amazing.”

Some of the companies are actually competitors, but they set that aside for this project. A few days before Thanksgiving, the contractors joined 13News in telling Smith the good news.

Kitty Smith and the contractors who volunteered to replace her swimming pool for free
screenshot: 11 Alive

As she walked out of her front door and saw the swimming pool contractors in her lawn, Smith whispered, “Oh my God,” and covered her face. Then, she stepped off her porch and greeted every volunteer with a hug.

“I don’t know your names but I know your hearts. I love you,” she told them.

The value of the group’s donation is approximately $90,000, including the installation of the new pool and the removal of the old one.

“You’re what we need in this world – not for me, for everyone. Thank you!” Smith said.

When the weather permits, the contractors will work on Smith’s new pool over the next few months so that it will be ready by springtime.

“Just no words. There aren’t words big enough to thank everyone,” Smith said. “I’m just so thankful.”

Check out the video below to learn more about this incredible Thanksgiving story.

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