Moving Underwood Pool Could Remove New Library Hurdle
Still yet vetted, plan on relocating pool could free incinerator to be sold, adding a vital playing field for school and town and freeing land for a new town library.
It all began when Department of Public Works Director Peter Castinino attended the annual Town Meeting two months ago.
There are so many capital needs in town, he said. Maybe there is a way to solve a few all at once.
After attending a meeting concerning the proposed town library and talking with those running the newly created Community Preservation Committee, he took a walk to the Underwood Playground and looked over the historic municipal pool.
In mid-June, he brought Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo to the same small bluff where they could see the 100-year-old pool, the Belmont Public Library and the Belmont High School playing fields across Concord Avenue in a single view.
By relocating the historic Underwood Pool nearly 25 paces up the slope to where the playground is situated, "[We] may solve a number of problems facing the town," recalled Castinino after attending the Belmont Board of Selectmen's meeting in the Town Hall auditorium Monday, July 2.
And if the ambitious plan pans out – which all sides agree is not a certainty – several municipal facilities long on the town's planning agenda could face a more certain future.
"I went up there with [Paolillo] and still liked the idea," said Castinino.
As for Paolillo, he believes moving the pool "is a great concept that we should take up."
"I agree that it needs to be more fully flushed out but we need to move forward on this for sure," he said after the meeting.
Under the DPW director's preliminary scenario, the oldest outdoor municipal pool in the country would be moved about 100 feet to the flat plateau towards School Street and the Wellington Elementary School where the current playground is now.
A new pool would allow the DPW to end its decades long piece-meal approach to keep the outdated and threadbare facility up and running. The structure does not meet current state codes for safety – leading to the recent removal of the diving board – and construction while the filtration system is overburdened and the bathhouse is on its last legs.
In addition, the location – next to an underground brook (which is under the elevated sidewalk and parking lot abutting the pool) – is creating pressures on the pool that will eventually lead to structural failure.
By moving the pool, Castinino also solves two daunting challenges facing the Board of Library Trustees and the Belmont School Department.
Since last year, the Trustees indicated to the state that it would build the town's new library on a section of School Department land next to and behind the Mobil service station.
But the new library would force the schools to lose a playing field, which would require another parcel to be found which so far has been unsuccessful.
The current solution being debated creates a new all-purpose field to the former site of the town's incinerator on Concord Avenue near the Lexington townline. Under current proposals, the capping of the site would cost a good chunk of the $4 million plus set aside in the town's landfill stabilization fund.
But the proposal would require busing teams the two-and-a-half miles to the incinerator and hiring an athletic trainer to be on site as is required by state law. Under current plans, the Library Trustees would pick up the tab.
Castinino's plan would take the sunken portion of land abutting the current pool to be transformed into a soccer/lacrosse field, eliminating the need for a costly field to be built and supported.
"It would certainly be better for us logistically because the students would be near the school," said Laurie Graham, Belmont School Committee chairwoman who was attending the meeting.
On the School Committee's agenda
While the entire School Committee has yet to take a position on the plan, the playing field issue is on the committee's July 31 meeting agenda.
But critical for library supporters, the move would finally sure up the question of where the new library will be constructed.
The library site resolution also brings back to the fore what successive Board of Selectmen have favored, moving the Police Department headquarters from its longtime home at Concord Avenue and Pleasant Street to the present library site.
As part of the long-standing aims of the town, with the Police Department relocated lower on Concord Avenue, the police station and the adjacent former headquarters of the Belmont Municipal Light Department would be placed on the market for redevelopment.
With the playing field no longer being considered, the incinerator can be actively marketed for a possible commercial use. There is currently one interested party for the roughly 17 acre site.
While not providing a name, two Selectmen – Andy Rojas and Ralph Jones – did indicate that it would be a business that would use the site for "marshaling" some sort of vehicle fleet for logistics use being close to routes 2 and 128.
Paolillo said the any commercial business locating on the land would be required by the town to pay for capping the landfill. The net result for Belmont would be a nearly $4.5 million windfall from the stabilization fund.
The resulting funds from the incinerator site and the expected sale this year of town land on Woodfall Road "could pay for a large part of a new pool," said Paolillo.
Yet as Selectmen, the Schools and Castinino all admit, the plan has yet to be vetted and there appears to be a myriad of obstacles in its way to success. The most pressing being the question of the incinerator's ownership. The town will be meeting with three state departments and offices this summer to begin what could become a drawn out process.
Along with untangling the Gordian knot of state and town claims, Jones said the state may require some municipal use at the site as a condition of ownership which would require some legal maneuvering to allow a private enterprise to purchase the location.
Second is timing: the Board of Library Trustees believe they will receive in the coming months a roughly $9 million state library building grant to construct the $19 million new library. If that occurs, the board will be coming before the Special Town Meeting in November to approve selling nearly $10 million in bonds to construct the two-story facility across Concord Avenue from the present location.
It is unlikely the incinerator site sale or a complete blueprint for the pool's relocation would be complete by the Special Town Meeting, leaving a great deal of assumptions and questions for town representatives to consider.
There will also be concerns on the new pool's total cost and how to pay for it – pending legislation is currently working its way through the legislature to permit the town's funded Community Preservation Committee to pay to build or restore existing recreational facilities – and the reaction of abutters and neighbors.
But with the initial enthusiastic response from the schools and selectmen, Castinino believes the proposal is a positive first step.
"I see these issues all to be connected so we can solve them," Castinino said.