Pool Study Complicates New Belmont Library's Future
Initial public reaction favors $4.2 million pool-only option; plans with playing field that is critical to building new library met with concerns.
The agenda for last night's public meeting, March 14, was officially an update of the feasibility study on the future of Belmont's historic but worn-out Underwood Pool.
But the end of hour-long presentation, it was the future of a new Belmont Public Library building that was literally thrown into the deep-end as the three dozen residents, abutters and town officials in attendance were not moved to relocate the century-old recreation site up the slope of the adjacent park and installing an artificial athletic field dedicated to high school sports at the pool's current location.
Instead, the $4.2 million design to rebuild the pool with a 12-foot deep diving area and a kids-friendly wading area bisected by a dedicated area for lap swimming was the clear favorite among the three options presented by architect Tom Scarlata of Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc., the firm conducting the study.
The upshot from the meeting – which was attended by several members of the School Committee, School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston and two members of the Board of Selectmen, Andy Rojas and Chairman Mark Paolillo – is likely the town and library will need to scrape their ambitious plans of construct the athletic field that would allow for a land swap to allow a new $19-million town library building to be located.
"I have to say on one hand I believe in the goodness of the people in Belmont," said Board of Library Trustee member Elaine Alligood, whose group is sponsoring the new library.
The $19 million project ha received approximately $9 million in state funding grant last year yet those dollars come with strings attached: the building must be constructed on the site – a parcel of land adjacent to the Mobil service station across Concord Avenue from the current library location – selected by town officials two years ago and the municipal will need to approve the funds for the remaining construction costs by either the last days of 2013 or by June of 2014 if the trustees exhaust all their time extensions.
"This is a small segment of people in the neighborhood and they have every right to be concerned," Alligood said.
"But I truly believe that we can find a solution that don't loss the grant this time because the next grant round could be five years down the road and who knows how much you'll get. [This building] is just one boiler burst away from a lot of damage," she added.
If the attitude of the 40 residents at the meeting is matched by the rest of the town, town officials need to begin to scramble to find another public area to play High School sports that will accommodate the School Department's need for sufficient space for its spring and fall sports teams to practice and play.
And as those who have been part of the previous multi-year process to locate such a site, it ain't gonna be easy.
The Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype feasibility report on the Underwood Pool will be discussed at several public meetings before the School Committee votes on the potential land swap:
• Friday, April 5: a special joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee.
• Monday, April 8: Town-wide Precinct meeting
• Tuesday, April 9: Regular School Committee meeting
• Thursday, April 11: Town-wide Precinct meeting
Many locations that residents Thursday brought up as alternative land swap parcels – the former incinerator on the edge of town on the Lexington town line and land on the Purecoat North Plating industrial site adjacent to Belmont High School – have been placed aside due to cost (Purecoat) and location (a field at the incinerator would require hiring an athletic trainer and hiring buses to transport the teams to the place).
The School Committee's Chairman Laurie Graham – whose committee will have the initial opportunity to approve or decline the land transfer early next month – was holding the school's cards close to her vest whether their collective opinion was swayed by Scarlata's presentation.
"We are looking forward to the formal presentation to the Board of Selectmen and School Committee at the formal presentation of the study on April 5," said Graham, who did say that Kingston, Belmont High School's Athletic Director Jim Davis and several School Committee members have recently expressed the needs of the High School "if we will move forward on a field there."
Cost to replace
The Underwood Pool feasibility study was suggested last summer by Peter Castanino, director of the town's Department of Public Works whose personnel operates and maintains the pool, a gift from the Underwood family – of processed meat fame – that opened the oldest continuously-run municipal pool in the US in 1912.
For the past decade, Castanino has advised town officials that the pool – which underwent repairs in the 1990s – is likely to fail due to its age and from fluctuating groundwater levels due to an abutting underground stream.
Ann Marie Mahoney, chair of the town's Capital Budget Committee, said that her group were reluctant "to spend another penny" for the facility due for an anticipated catastrophic failure.
While the primary purpose of the Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype feasibility study was to determine cost and needs at a new facility, the firm was asked to also blueprint options that included a standard-sized athletic field located on the site due to the library's possible move.
Scarlata presented three plans or options in which the first was the attendees favorite. The oval-shaped pool, which would be level to the walkway at the current site (which stands above the underground Wellington Brook), would have a gently sloping "beach" entry for infants and parents, six, 25-yard long lanes in the middle for adults or swim teams to perform laps which has never been part of the facility's makeup and a 12-foot deep end which will allow for one or two diving boards.
The renovated pool would be 11,000 square feet (the current configuration is 15,500 square feet), have a modern bath house with modern amenities – a "family" changing room and nearly triple the number of toilets which will bring it up to state code – a new filtration system while retaining the depressed field between the pool and Concord Avenue that will continue to be used in the winter for outdoor skating.
The options tab
The price tag for the renovated pool is being tagged at $4.3 million which Town Administrator David Kale said would likely be built only after a successful debt exclusion vote.
While residents and participants received the renovate blueprints with open arms, the same could not be said for either of the designs including an athletic field. In both options, the $1 million artificial "Turf" field – approximately 300 feet by 180 feet – would sit facing north to south and require a 10-foot tall chain-link fence with an added 20 feet of netting to prevent balls from colliding with vehicles on nearby roads creating what Scarlata called "an appearance issue." The ground under the playing field will need extensive work to redirected the below-surface water.
Fitting the field would require part of the adjacent hillside to be removed creating a retaining wall and a steeper incline up to the present playground.
The new 7,000 square foot pool would be situated where the playground is now located, in one option closer to a residence along Cottage Road, the other along the outer edge of the park.
“Why not take the house next to the pool?” suggested Robert Berens to Scarlata referring to his own house that would abut the pool.
There would be limited parking on the Cottage Road option while the other plan with access off School Street will increase parking availability with the use of the Wellington School parking lot.
Either of the three options can be constructed in the facility's off-season so the town and residents will not miss a "pool season," said Scarlata.
Cost for either "field" option will come in around $6.1 million.
To those in attendance, the troubles of transferring the pool the several hundred feet up the hillside appeared to far outweighed the hopes of library supporters who are counting on the land swap to secure the future home of the new library and propel positive momentum for a new building.
"It's a real mess," said Lisa Serini of Winn Street of the field options, expressing the prevailing sentiment. Even Paolillo, a supporter of a new library, said the rebuilt pool "is pretty neat."
Soon, several attendees began refighting several points of past processes and decisions.
Library Trustee Alligood said she is hopeful that any setback to the new library from Thursday's meeting will be a small one.
"This is not our only option," she said.
"We want a solution that meets maybe not 100 percent of the needs of the people in town but let's say 80 percent. And since the actual putting a shovel into the ground for the new library is years away, we have the time to find that solution," Alligoofd said.