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New Underwood Pools Design Gets A Mixed Review By Public

Nearly complete design for a new Underwood Pool presented to the public Thursday.

Joe Ruggiero said he takes his young children from their Washington Street home to Belmont's historic Underwood Pool, the "swimming pond" that generations of  residents have used to spend long, hot days and learn to swim over the past 102 summers.

Yet as he stood before the microphone at the public meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 16, the 13-year resident looked at the blueprints presented by architects to question the need for a new pool at its current price tag.

"Everyone likes the pool but it's used at the most 90 days a year if there is good weather. It's a lot of money," he said. In this day and age, Ruggiero questioned, "there is better ways to use $5 million." 

Yet for a majority of the 50 residents at the Belmont Public Library Thursday night, the schematic designs presented by project architect Bargmann Hendrie and Archetype provided the right number of amenities to where they agreed with Anne Paulsen, chair of the Underwood Pool Building Committee, who said the new design "is ever more efficient and really speak to the needs of the community … which they expressed over and over again."

The design team's blueprint (see design schematics on this page) has come up with provides a pair of pools and three support buildings to replace the threadbare facility the Underwood family presented to the town in 1912 – three months after the sinking of the Titanic – for the benefit of the town's children.

While the new pools have less square footage then the existing oval, "it will have more usable space," said Thomas Scarlata, the project's lead architect, as the current pool has too many shallow sections.

The pool closest to the Belmont Public Library will have a one-meter diving board and six 25 yard lanes that can be used for swim meets. This pool will have its own bathhouse/changing area along with a lifeguards break room.

The inclusion of the competitive lane pool led to a suggestion from Louise Road's 
Adriana Poole and others if a popular "bubble dome" – a light, air-supported structure that is used over pools in the region – could be placed over the lanes to allow for near year round swimming practice.

While Paulsen said such a flexible structure is not part of the current design, architect Scarlata said putting in place infrastructure for a dome – including anchors and updating the nearby bathhouse to be heated – is possible now or in the future.

The other pool will be for toddlers and young children who are not ready for the deep end but are too old to be the youngest guests. There will be a shaded "underwater" bench in the middle allowing adults to sit in the water as they watch over their children or read a book. This pool will have water sprays and pop-up jets along with a water slide. 

The Cottage Street side will also have the main entrance (along with a concessions/vending area) at the edge of the drop off/parking lot – another drop off site will be on Concord Avenue – where the main bathhouse is located with family- and single-changing rooms what will have a toilet. The other building will house the filtration systems along with a pair of restrooms. 

The need for two buildings was prompted by the "tremendous amounts of sinks and pipes" needed to support the state regulation for toilets required for the foot print of the new pools.

Each bathhouse will be designed to accept a great deal of natural light with slanted roofs for the inclusion of solar panels to reduce electrical demand, said Scarlata. 

Because the design relies on the majority of patrons using Concord Avenue and the Wellington School for parking, an emphasis on creating a usable sidewalk on the pool side of Cottage Street, behind the existing screen of trees running along the road, said Kyle Zick, landscape architect with KZLA. The trees will also provide screening for Cottage Street residents.

The design not only won praise from most residents at the meeting, the chair of the Belmont Board of Selectmen, Mark Paolillo, noted that the board was "100 percent behind this plan" with the knowledge that the project will need to be paid for with a debt exclusion voted by the residents.

Under a plan first discussed this past fall, the proposed $4.5 million tab for a new pool facility will be split between a $2 million grant from the town's Community Preservation Committee – which will need to be approved by a majority of annual Town Meeting representatives in May – and the remainder from debt issued by the town and paid by property owners. 

"We are in a dire need of a new facility," said Paolillo, reiterating the likelihood that state and town departments of public health will be unlikely to grant exemptions to safety and health regulations the existing pool will need to open in June if the town does not have a new facility in the offing. 

The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to meet with the Building Committee on a recommendation to accept the design on Jan. 27. 

"We are under the gun," admitted Paulsen, noting that the design and a debt exclusion will need to be approved soon to make the Town Election ballot for April and the May Town Meeting. 

If the town voters and Town Meeting reps approve the financing, then construction will begin in September with a completion date of the new pool of June 2015.

But Ruggiero, an executive vice president of a development company who calls himself "a long-time construction guy," questions the math on what the final amount of the debt.

"They haven't counted for escalation (of costs) so this figure is not right," said Ruggiero. "In the end, it's not a $4.5 million project, it will be closer to a $5 to $6 million project." 

"If you're going to ask me to raise my taxes by $5 million, I think it should be paid for the pool at the high school," said Ruggiero, referring to the Higginbottom Pool, that has been closed for nearly a month due to pump and then electrical problems.

Paulsen said she and the committee understands that residents such as Ruggiero are concerned about the possibility of higher expenses.

"But we are going to try to stick with [$4.5 million]," said Paulsen. 

"Will it be $5 over or $5 under, a little over or under? We don't know," she told Belmont Patch.

"But remember, we got that estimate from Bargmann Hendrie and Archetype when they did the feasibility study last year. And we hired them because they could bring it in at that price and as far as I know, there are no surprises," said Paulsen. 

"But if people start adding a bubble dome or other amenities, then you can be sure it will cost more than we are telling people," she said.

Waverly Watchdog January 18, 2014 at 12:54 AM
The $2M 'grant' is deceit. The CPA is a surtax on the Property Tax. Nothing more or less. It comes directly out of peoples' pockets in EXACTLY the same way as all other Property Taxes. - - - The plan is another waste of money, slopping only a very few Special Interests. Paolillo's Pond went down. This should too. Enoughy with the pool activists.
Sandi January 18, 2014 at 08:52 AM
I am shocked the such consistent negative comments. The pool is a community gem. For the families in the community (yes, 625 of families who purchased memberships, and the many more who willingly pay for the day pass!) this is safe community pool to enjoy. Count me (and pretty much every family I know) as a supporter who will also support the project with our checkbooks. But most of all, I am really sad for those on this board who are obsessively compelled to be so negative about this project. It must be so hard to live life with such anger. I would suggest that they find another outlet for such negativity. These comments aren't inviting discussions, they are nothing but rants. I suggest if ranting is what you then start a blog.
Waverly Watchdog January 18, 2014 at 10:09 AM
If you ACTUALLY L@@K at the numbers, the revenue from ALL sources for the pool in 2009 was about $133,000. The operating LOSS was about $43,000. This INCLUDES day passes, unless that money is unaccounted for, which would be a much bigger problem, in and of itself. AFAIK, there is no more recent data published. - - - The pool is ONLY a 'gem' for the Special Interest few... the actual users, and as a feature to sell properties to those who want to come to Belmont and freeload off the Taxpayers. I'm talking about those who net COST Belmont Taxpayers money - - - You may be willing to slop Special Interests with Other Peoples' Money, but to use a favorite Progressive mantra "That is UNSUSTAINABLE". The fiscal irresponsibility MUST stop sooner or later, else Belmont will become Stockton or Detroit. This looks like a good plact to Just Say No!!!
lhx.info January 18, 2014 at 02:37 PM
I agree that a new underwood pool is economically unsound for the whole Belmont community. And a small group of people will benefit from a new pool. Money can be spent on better things, or saved.
Lee Adams January 19, 2014 at 08:52 PM
How odd my last post isn’t here. Sandi brings up valid points. I’m glad that she feels the Underwood Pool is a community gem and she’s entitled to her opinion. I’m pleased that she and her friends are willing to support the Underwood Pool project with their own money and not ask the good Tax Payers of Belmont for the additional $2.5-million since we already contributed $2-million. Please write a check payable to the Town of Belmont, C/O Underwood Pool for $2.5-million and you’ll get your pool. As for the negativity comments she refers too, many of the Town residents, including myself, are frustrated and disgusted with the gross incompetence of our Elected Leaders. They’ve failed to address Belmont’s debt obligations (OPEB) of almost $200-million and growing, have failed to live within their means as we do, have failed to negotiate fair and reasonable contracts with the various Unions which we can no longer afford and have no real vision for Belmont’s future. I believe I read in a BelmontPatch article a while back that approximately 20% of our Property Taxes is to cover Propostions 2 ½ Overrides and Debt Exclusions. I find this quite alarming as should any Belmont Property Owner. Belmont is a great town to live in. Unfortunately the town subpar leadership, at best, through their constant fiscal mismanagement will leave a legacy of debt for the next generation who will not enjoy the Town as we know it. Belmont along with many other communities are all heading towards bankruptcies due to their mountain of debt. No one ever thought communities would be declaring bankruptcies only a few years back and yet the City of Detroit, MI; City of San Bernardino, Calif; City of Stockton, Calif; Jefferson County, Ala, and City of Central Falls, R.I. to mention a few are doing just that. Everyone becomes a loser – the Union members lose their benefits with no recourse and the Town loses its high bond ratings requiring higher interest to be paid for borrowing money for public projects. This isn’t being negative but the harsh reality. Look at the previous paragraph and ask any of the Selectmen what’s the plan to address these concerns. They will mumble some meaningless words and provide no real answers. I’m concern for Belmont’s future. I plan to Vote NO for the Underwood Pool as I hope many others will too. The Underwood Pool just doesn’t serve the community as a whole and the Town cannot afford such projects at this time. The Underwood Pool further illustrates the how the small vocal WANTS who are connect to Paul Solomon and Mr. Special Interest Selectman Chair Mark Paolillo push their agenda through with no regards on the impact to the Town’s collective future. There’s pressing capital projects that do need to be addressed impacting the entire community, such as a new high school.
had_enuf March 29, 2014 at 11:21 AM
@Lee - awesome post although I think that supporters like Sandi should be paying the full cost. As you drive past the Wellington school, you see the many Vote Yes signs of the self serving pr*icks who evidently view this pool as their publicly funded private pool. If an outdoor pool is wanted then why can't surrounding towns get together and build a regional one? There's a town in IL, Glenview, that has TWO outdoor pool complexes that's open to non-residents. They also have a 4 pool indoor complex. There are restaurants and child care services available. Sure, a regional one would not be within walking distance but most people in Belmont can't walk to the Underwood pool anyway and most people have cars. Sharing the costs this way could be much more affordable or even a money maker. The same goes for a new library. Or maybe towns like Lexington who do have a pool complex should be forced to give memberships to adjacent town residents. After all, don't progressives like to redistribute the wealth from those who have to those who don't?
Elaine April 10, 2014 at 02:21 PM
How is wanting a public pool that isn't an absolute disgrace self-serving? I'm ever so glad I moved to Lexington where the town is well run, has a gorgeous library that is supported by the residents as well as taxes, has a fabulous town pool complex, has a kids rec center with a myriad of affordable activities and camps, a new community center, roads that don't mimic what it's like to drive on the moon, etc. and...AND I pay less in property taxes than I did in Belmont. And the town has a budget surplus! Lexington has an amazing town manager and a dedicated staff running it. Belmont residents are allowed to purchase tags for the Lexington pool for $375 per family though there are a limited number of tags available; http://www.lexingtonma.gov/recreation/aquatics/SwimTagInfo.pdf Belmont's problem isn't a lack of money, it's a corrupt town government that has no transparency and will likely go bankrupt before things will change. It's too bad, as the Underwood pool should be saved, but like so many things in Belmont, it's left to rot.
Waverly Watchdog April 10, 2014 at 04:10 PM
There are several causes: First, Belmont has a LOT of tax exempt property, including McLean, Belmont Hill School, Habitat, and the Mormon Temple. - - - Second, Belmont has little to no commercial tax base. - - - Third, the pay raises to the Public Sector Unions, especially the teachers, is eating the Town alive. - - - Since 2000 the teachers have been getting roughly a 6% year-over-year increase. Remember, they get not only the widely publicized increase from year to year in step/lane, but every year they move up a step. - - - Doing some very simple, back of the envelope, math over the period 2000 to 2014: Inflation has been about 36.3 %; Prop 2 1/2 Tax Increases about 41.2 %; Teacher pay 126 % - - - And, Elaine, you are quite right to say " Belmont's problem isn't a lack of money, it's a corrupt town government" - - - More specifically, the Town government has an incestuous relationship with the unions. If you look at TM membership, many are closely related to Town employees, present or former.
Lee Adams April 10, 2014 at 07:54 PM
Unfortunately the Special Interests and the Wants prevailed in passing the Debt Exclusion for a new overpriced Underwood Pool. --- I honestly believe Belmont is on the path of self destruction as many other municipalities are throughout the country. The growing rate of unfunded debt obligations is a frightful number that the Special Interests are either blind to see or simply refuse to acknowledge. Municipal bankruptcies will become the norm and less of a rarity. Those retired depending on their pensions will lose their financial lively hood with no recourse. Sorry. Current Town employees hoping to receive a pension once retired will have nothing. Thank your Unions for refusing to understand today’s financial dilemmas municipalities face and extorting unrealistic contract benefits that our worthless political leaders keep signing. The Property Taxes will either need to be increased by 25-30% (at minimum) to live the status quo or the Residents will need to accept a subpar school system, crumbling infrastructures and a lower bond rating forcing the municipalities to pay higher interest to borrow less money. Those who believe Belmont, or any municipality, can live well beyond its financial means are delusional. --- As for Elaine’s comments regarding Lexington and its budget surplus. Maybe Lexington is doing everything correctly compared to Belmont. I won’t argue this. Please ask you amazing Town Manager what is Lexington’s current debt obligation? Let us know. You might be surprised to learn Lexington has one like all municipalities with no plan how to pay for it. --- Lexington’s current Debt Obligation is $591-millon http://www.lexingtonma.gov/finance/Lexington_OPEB_Report_FYE_2013.pdf , Belmont is $240-million (it was $194-million in 2012) , Arlington is $380-miilion, Cambridge is $520-millon and Boston is well over $1.2-billion. No Municipality, State Government nor the Federal Government ever invested the money to keep these fund liquid. Debt obligations, like Social Security, is being funded with future contributions which fails to keep pace with the demand on them. --- Belmont needs to learn to live within its financial means, exercise fiscal responsibility and restraints on what it can afford and what it cannot, negotiate fair and reasonable contracts with its 16 Union, employ operational cost saving measures, due away with Police Details that benefit a few and utilize Flagmen as 49 states do, look at the salaries paid to our various Town Directors compared to those in the private sectors, and provide a real solution to pay the ever growing debt obligations. Instead the Elected Leader provide the same cheap lip service with hallow promises. These are the realities all municipalities face today with no easy answers. Sacrifices will be required on everyone’s part.

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