Park Com: Time To Revisit Municipal Swimming Pool

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Infrastructure

An early rendering of the Chatham Community Center design that includes two pools. The plans were defeated at town meeting in 2004 and revised to eliminate the pools. Parks and recreation commissioners think it's time to bring up the idea of a municipal pool once again. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – Is it time, once again, to look into building a municipal swimming pool? The parks and recreation commission thinks so.

The last proposal for a town swimming pool was 15 years ago, when two pools were part of the first plan to renovate the Main Street School into a community center. The plan was voted down at the 2004 annual town meeting, with opposition to the pools, especially the cost, a major factor.

In recent meetings, commissioners have talked about the possibility of reexamining a town pool in conjunction with plans underway to build a new senior center on town land off Middle Road. Selectman Cory Metters, the liaison to the parks and recreation commission, warned that throwing a pool into the senior center discussion “could be very divisive.”

“I don't want to muddy the water to deter from a COA facility being built in a timely manner,” he said at last Tuesday's parks and recreation commission meeting.

Commissioners agreed, saying they see a new senior center as the greater need, but still wanted to explore the idea.

“There's no harm it putting it out there, starting the conversation,” said Chairman Meredith Fry.

Commissioners agreed to set up a meeting with COA officials to discuss the topic.

The town recently hired a firm to design a new senior center and an owner's project manager to oversee the process. That follows a space needs study conducted by the COA which recommended a 14,000- to 16,000-square foot facility to replace the current 8,600-square-foot senior center on Stony Hill Road. A survey conducted by the COA found that as the town's population continues to age, the senior center will be called on to provide more services and activities than can be accommodated in the current building, which is already too small.

The 2.4 acre site on Middle Road identified by selectmen as the best location for a new senior center would likely have space for a pool, either in a separate building or as part of a COA facility, although Metters pointed out that the designers have yet to site a building on the land. In theory, however, there's probably adequate area.

“It's quite a large parcel,” he said.

Parks and recreation commission member Ira Seldin said there was significant opposition to having pools as part of the community center.

“People just felt it was an extravagance we didn't need,” he said. “I just can't see going through all that again.”

The initial community center proposal, which included an Olympic-size pool as well as a lap pool, was estimated to cost $8.9 million. Voters at the 2004 annual town meeting turned it down 580 to 559 in a rare secret ballot. Plans were revised to eliminate the pool, and cut the cost by more than $3 million, and gained voter approval a year later.

The cost of a pool hasn't been raised in the recent discussions, but members of the commission felt that circumstances have changed enough to warrant bringing up the idea again. In 2004, some questioned the need for a pool given the town's many beaches, but commissioner Kimberly Robbins said people's swimming habits have changed since then. (Left unsaid was the influence of sharks on those habits.) She also noted that Monomoy Regional High School does not have a swim team due to the lack of a pool, and that a pool could be a source of revenue.

“I think there's a lot more need than there was 10, 15 years ago,” Robbins said.

David Eldredge agreed. “I think it's worth bringing up again,” he said.

Seldin said the people he sees at the senior center are not likely to be use a pool or walking trail, another idea raised by commissioners for the proposed COA site.

“Just looking at the people who visit at the times I'm there, I don't think they would be interested in using a pool or walking trail,” he said. “It's just not appropriate to the people that I see currently in the council on aging.” Adding a pool or walking trail to the discussion is just going to “confuse the issue of what should the council on aging building be like, how big should it be and how much should it cost,” he said.

Metters agreed that the discussion was worth having. “There's going to be a lot of questions,” he cautioned. “I'm in the camp that I want to have a discussion about a town pool, somewhere, in the near future.” Coupling it with the senior center might not be the best approach, but there is time, he added. Final plans and a town meeting vote on a new senior center are at least a year or more away.

“I do think it's worth having the discussion,” Metters said.