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After a Century, Underwood's Diving Board Gets Pulled In

Part of the municipal pool since 1912, Health Department cites safety concerns for banning the recreational standard.

There has been a diving board at the center of the Underwood Pool since the facility . Photos throughout the years show young people  in all styles of swimwear standing on the dock at the center of the pool where a long board was located.

And last year, the center location was again crowded with children and young teens waiting to launch themselves off the end into the humid air to land head or feet first or in some contorted shape into the spring-fed waters.

The board has also been an integral part of the "swim test," the long-standing tradition in which youngsters "graduate" to the deep end of the pool by demonstrating they can paddle around the edge of the adult section. The test's final obstacle was to swim to and dive off the platform and head for the shore.

But in this, the pool's centennial season, patrons new and old will find the center island off-limits and the diving board gone.

"I've heard mixed reviews. The kids will really miss it but some of the swimmers say that there is no one diving on them and there's extra space," said Washington Street's Elizabeth McLaughlan on Friday, who came to beat the third day of 90 degree heat with her three children.

For second year lifeguard John Gehrig, eliminating the diving option prevents kids from jump on top of each other and splashing around.

"But it's also less fun so that's sort of unfortunate," he said.

When quizzed by pool patrons, Gehrig said that the pool's deep end – reportedly recorded at nine feet – did not meet state standards of 12 feet.

But the prohibition of diving off the center island was initiated last week by Belmont's Health Director Stefan Russakow who said his department "took a long hard look" at the potential safety issues at the pool.

He said while the point where most divers enter the water "is fairly deep," that depth is not correspondingly wide, resembling a narrow trench.

"So diving just off to the left or right from the board is more shallow water and increases the possibility of injury," said Russakow.

While citing safety, Russakow admitted that he could not find any recorded incident of anyone being injured hitting the pool's bottom diving off the board or the central platform.

Editor's note: The Belmont Patch editor has dived off the board numerous times in the past 15 years and has not reached the bottom of the trough.

"Yet we don't want to be wrong about safety," said Russakow saying that due to daily water loss, the pool's depth is inconsistant and could prove a danger for anyone just off the center of the diving area.

If the Underwood Pool was being built with its current configurations, it would not be able to pass regulatory muster, Russakow noted, saying that Board of Selectmen Chairman, Mark Paolillo, and Department of Public Works director Peter Castinino were told of the decision and agreed with the actions.

Russakow said the whose body was not found for two days at a state facility in Fall River.

The diving board is just one of several "concerns" he has at the pool but it was the most glaring, said Russakow.

Additional safety, health concerns

Other troubled areas include insufficient air quality in the filter building, the entire filtration system is substandard to meet proper health levels, the spillover water goes directly into the sewer system rather than a separate holding area and the bathhouse is inadequate and needs to be renovated or replaced.

The Underwood Pool's condition has been a topic discussed by town officials for several years. Castinino recently mentioned the need to begin serious discussions on the pools future. Castinino has said that due to its porous concrete envelope, the pool's walls and bottom could buckle due to a build up of pressure its inadequate construction and age, requiring immediate extensive and expensive repairs.

A long-term financial solution to resolve the increasing safety issues facing the pool suggested by several Town Meeting members is to fund the renovation with money under the control of the .

Passed by voters in November 2010, the sets aside taxes for preservation, recreation and affordable housing projects in Belmont. Many have pointed to the pool's history – it is the oldest outdoor municipal swimming pool in the United States – and recreational usage as meeting several of the goals prescribed in the law.

The Committee is expected to make its first project recommendation to Belmont's annual Town Meeting next April.

But the decision from the town to take the board away and preventing diving was meet with mostly negative comments especially from kids.

Malaika Khumalo just completed her swim test on Friday without the chance to jump off the diving board which she was looking forward.

"I didn't like that because I like diving in because it makes me faster when I swim," Malaika said.

Another patron, who said he is the middle of three generations who learned to swim "and dive, I might add" at the Underwood, said a solution is as easy as marking off with a rope where people can jump into.

"With water, there is alway a risk that you are going to take. But the lifeguards here are excellent. They watch everyone like hawks so there is a great deal of safety already," said Ali Manion, who came to the pool with her two children, Wilder and Quinn, along with several friends. 

"Having a diving board was that extra benefit that makes this place unique and we really miss it," she said.

Trey Klein June 24, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Really? You're removing the board and banning diving at the Underwood Pool, even though there has never been a diving board safety incident recorded in the pool's 100 years? Really? You're going to deprive kids and adults of one of the most popular activities in our unique pool because "a new facility would not be designed this way"? I have news for you, there are MANY charming aspects of the Underwood Pool that would be designed differently today--and after working yourselves into a capriciously regulatory lather, most of them could be cited as possible "safety concerns.". Really. If you're going to remove the diving board absent any actual evidence of safety issues, you might as well shut down the entire pool. Oh, does that sound too arbitrary? Exactly. Do the right thing and rescind this incredibly bad decision.
Voice of the people June 24, 2012 at 03:00 AM
We have a town pool with a bottom so jagged that it can slice into your feet. We have a fake Coyote that sits at the pool day and night to ward off Geese. That works for a day or two We have a failed fake coyote so now the Belmont brain trust has thrown an inflatable alligator into the pool to combat Geese We have kids running around in the morning picking up geese poop around the pool hoping that no one sees them or the pool is shut down for days We have a "Health" (are you kidding me ??) Director that is ready for a gastric bypass We have an Animal Control Officer in love with Coyotes asking us to "be good neighbors" while our cats and dogs are killed every day AND NOW WE HAVE NO DIVING BOARD You know what ? I am really angry
Karl Ivester June 24, 2012 at 06:25 PM
https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/groups/374892905909071/ Save the Diving Board at Underwood
david erickson June 25, 2012 at 05:24 PM
If changes need to be made or a new pool, why are you waiting until next April to discuss? Why not now so changes can be made during fall and winter. This town has a huge reputation of doing things backwards. It's an issue that can and should be addressed now!
John Bowe June 26, 2012 at 03:12 AM
My biggest surprise is that something like this happened before a major pool system failure. That is coming, and everyone knows it. Related, I heard Health officials say (several years ago) that the pool is very often on the edge of being shut for health reasons (bacteria, and worse, in the water). I get the impression they squinted enough to keep it open. Surely its largely from severely antiquated equipment. We as a town have no one to blame but ourselves, being so shortsighted to under-invest in our own infrastructure. This month's outcry will be quite tame compared to the closure after that failure. There has been more attention paid to pools nationwide the past 5 or so years. Recall in Dec 2008 the Health Dept was required to enforce federal rules about drain safety, causing us to close the High School (Higginbottom) pool for a few weeks to replace some parts despite zero incidents in its 35 years. http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/news/x1277294363/Federal-law-closes-pool My kids have had pretty much zero interest in this pool since they were around 12 years old, and I really had nothing compelling (like a good pool) to convince them otherwise.

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