It hasn't been a good recreational year for Matt Russo and his kids.
The Belmont dad first had to deal with the closing of the Butler Elementary School's playground where his children attend school. Then when summer came around, the family's favorite in town destination, the Underwood Pool, was deprived of one of its most prominent attractions: the diving board that has been a feature of
"We were hit with a double whammy," Russo told the Monday, July 2, meeting of the Belmont Board of Selectmen which in addition to the on-going discussion on how much longer can the oldest outdoor municipal swimming pool can continue before it fails.
"We are being told [the pool] was out of compliance for 14 years" and this summer the town acts on the issue," said an exasperated Russo.
Residents heard from Belmont Department of Public Works Director Peter Castinino who explained in a history of the pool the physical and engineering issues and generations of delayed maintenance of the facility that has been
Castinino said the day is sure to come when the physical pressures and aging infrastructure will lead to a major "event" – in past discussions Castinino said that would likely be a buckling of the concrete bottom – that will close the pool and require significant funds to repair a substandard facility.
"I have a concern that something is going to fail," Castinino said noting that while his crew – the pool falls under the DPW's care – can continue to "patch it up," those efforts can not go on forever.
The DPW director said if the town was serious about keeping what Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo called a "community asset" then a plan needs to be formulated where to relocate the pool and its new design.
(Castinino has on transplanting the pool to a plateau 100 feet above its present location)
But most of the two dozen resident in the audience were there to hear from the town's Health Department and the governing Board of Health on their decision to restrict diving.
For Health Department Director Stefan Russakow, whose inspection led to the diving restriction, he had little choice in his action as state regulations requires just over eight and a half feet of water under a diving board and as deep as 10 feet further out from the board.
"On good days" when the pool's water level is at its highest, is "right on the line" for diving, said Russakow.
"Every year we struggled" whether to approve the diving board, said Russakow. This year, the inspection – performed when the pool is drained – illustrated how the pool was out of compliance.
And while the pool was built 100 years ago, "we must enforce the 1998 state health code" which imposes minimum requirements for depth levels, he said.
Due to pool being below the ground water level and the presence of the Wellington Brook (running under the concrete sidewalk that abuts the length of the pool) that both brings water into and leaks it out of the facility, it is extremely difficult to keep water level constant, he said.
After doing the due diligence at the beginning of the season, "we can not make a recommendation to have the diving board on the platform," said Russakow.
Backing Russakow, long-time Board of Health Chairman Dr. David Alper said that "the short answer" is that the depth level was not in compliance and "we pulled the board."
"We are not going to take a chance" of a catastrophic accident to a diver who ventures off to the side of the pool's deepest level, said Alper.
He said residents should be giving "chocolate and flowers" to the DPW staff for keeping the water clear of bacteria requiring frequent water tests and a great number of man hours.
"In the meantime, the pool is open," said Alper.
When given an opportunity, residents expressed their hope that some action could be taken to bring back the diving board that one speaker said made the pool experience "fun."
In addition, the public was critical for the "suddenness" of the decision that they weren't given time to take in the information before either buying a pass or coming to the pool for the first time.
"I implore the town ... to be proactive" in resolving the current pool predicament, said Russo.
Paolillo said the Recreation Department will depart from long-standing policy and allow refunds to residents who purchased season passes.
One resident sought to know if rather than diving jumping could be allowed from the center island, a compromise that Russakow said he "would need to think about."
The Selectmen has placed an update on the diving ban on its next meeting on July 16.
Until then, the Underwood Pool will not be what it once was, said resident PJ Looney.
"The diving board was a rite of passage. That's gone. The board gave something more, it added to the pool," he said.